Australian PM Calls Indonesian Leader on Refugees

By: Rod McGuirk - AP Writer
By: Rod McGuirk - AP Writer

Prime Minister Kevin Rudd confirmed on Tuesday that he telephoned Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono about Australia's influx of asylum seekers before the Indonesian navy reportedly intercepted a boat load of 260 Sri Lankans bound for Australia at the weekend.

Australian newspapers reported Tuesday that Rudd made a personal plea on Saturday to Yudhoyono to intervene after Australian intelligence officials discovered that a boat carrying the Sri Lankan men, women and children was leaving Indonesian waters bound for Australia.

It would have been the largest shipment of asylum seekers to reach Australian waters since Rudd's center-left government came to power in 2007.

The Indonesian navy intercepted the boat on Sunday off Krakatoa island and was escorting the Sri Lankans to a port in west Java, The West Australian newspaper reported.

Rudd confirmed that he discussed with Yudhoyono at the weekend "our continued cooperation" on people smuggling.

"Working with our friends in the region is important to deal with this because of the huge push factors coming from political disturbances in Sri Lanka and Afghanistan and the wider Middle East," Rudd told Australian Broadcasting Corp. radio.

He added: "The Australian government makes no apology whatsoever for deploying the most hard-line measures necessary to deal with the problems of illegal immigration into Australia."

Rudd's political opponents have accused his government of encouraging a recent influx in asylum seekers reaching Australia by
boat through new policies that reduce the time that would-be refugees spend in detention before their applications are processed.

Rudd's Labor Party government also changed the system so that refugees no longer have to reapply to stay in Australia after five years.

Most people smugglers bring refugees to Australia by boat via Indonesia.

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