East Timor MPs reject asylum centre proposal
East Timor's parliament has passed a resolution rejecting Australia's proposal to establish a centre for asylum seekers there.
Prime Minister Julia Gillard has said she is interested in coming up with a regional solution to asylum seekers, with the possibility of establishing a processing centre in East Timor.
Ms Gillard has backed away from suggestions the centre would definitely go ahead after it was revealed she had only discussed the plan in a phone conversation with East Timor's president Jose Ramos-Horta.
While the resolution was passed unanimously, only 34 of the 65 members of parliament were there for the vote.
The Speaker of East Timor's parliament, Fernando de Araujo, says he hopes Australia will accept that his country has rejected the proposal.
"This decision was made by this parliament according to our hierarchical system that parliament is the one who decides for the situation, so the MP's already decided so I hope that government Australia can understand the situation," he said.
The resolution formally rejects the idea that East Timor be used for a detention or processing centre for refugees.
It also appeals to East Timor's government to reject any proposal to establish such a centre in East Timor and calls on the government to treat this as a political issue and to assume an unequivocal position with Australia.
It comes comes after at week where the idea was heavily debated in East Timor and all of the parties came out in opposition to it, including members of prime minister Xanana Gusmao's coalition.
Foreign Affairs Minister Stephen Smith has played down the rejection. He says the decision reflected the view of the parliament, not the government and negotiations are continuing
President Jose Ramos-Horta has said that he is open to the idea, giving more positive signals than the prime minister.
Mr Gusmao has been much more circumspect saying he does want to help refugees and asylum seekers, and the people of East Timor do feel a responsibility to help, but he will make a decision once he sees the details of Julia Gillard's plan.
The vote also reflects the surprise felt in the small nation after Ms Gillard's announcement.
There is a team of Australian officials in East Timor this week discussing the proposal and Foreign Affairs Minister Stephen Smith has said that he will be talking to his counterpart in East Timor soon.
Ms Gillard has refused to set a date for the rollout of any policy.
Earlier today Mr Smith said Indonesia's support was crucial to setting up a regional refugee processing centre.
Mr Smith is travelling to Indonesia this week to discuss Australia's proposal with his counterpart.
He told Sky News the Government is trying to bring about a long-term, sustainable solution.
"It does need to have regional support. Indonesia is a key partner in that respect. We co-chair the Bali Process together," he said.
"But what we're doing is qualitatively different from the Howard government's efforts which were unilateral, bilateral arrangements with countries like Nauru."
SOURCE: ABC NEWS