April 4, 2006

Australia says reports of more Papuan boat people

CANBERRA (Reuters) - Australia is investigating reports on
Wednesday that a second boatload of asylum seekers from
Indonesia's troubled Papua province had landed in northern

Ties between Australia and Indonesia became strained last
month after Canberra granted asylum to 42 Papuan refugees, who
arrived in late January after sailing for five days in a
traditional outrigger.

A spokesman for Immigration Minister Amanda Vanstone
confirmed there were reports another group of Papuans had
reached Australia, but that it was an operational matter and no
further comment would be made.

The Age and The Sydney Morning Herald newspapers reported
on Wednesday that a union activist, his wife and their four
children, including a two-month-old baby, had now landed on a
remote northern Australian island.

The newspapers quoted a Catholic priest from the West
Papuan town of Merauke, who said two fishermen had dropped the
family at an island, known locally as Bamboo Island, on Sunday.

"They cannot stay there for too long. They only have some
packages of instant noodles and canned fish only to survive for
a few days," the priest said.

Papuan independence activists have campaigned for more than
30 years to break away from Indonesia, while a low-level
rebellion has also simmered. Some of the most prominent support
for the separatists is from organizations in Australia.

Human rights groups accuse Indonesia of widespread abuses
there, and the Papuans who sought asylum said they feared
becoming victims of genocide. Jakarta denies such charges.

Australia's Immigration Department granted 42 Papuan asylum
seekers three-year protection visas last month, despite
Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono calling
Australian Prime Minister John Howard to ask that they be

Yudhoyono said on Monday that Jakarta and Canberra's
relationship needed to be reviewed, questioned Australia's
support for Indonesian sovereignty, and said doubt had been
cast on a deal to cooperate on illegal migration.

Ties between the two countries are traditionally volatile
and hit a low in 1999, when Australia led peacekeepers into the
former Indonesian province of East Timor to quell militia

But the relationship later improved, with close
anti-terrorism cooperation after the 2002 bombings on the
Indonesian resort island of Bali which killed scores of
Australians, and Canberra's prompt aid following the
devastating tsunami of 2004.