source: The Star Online

Thursday July 15, 2010

Indonesia cautious on Australia's Timor refugee plan

JAKARTA (Reuters) - Indonesia sees Australia's proposal to build a refugee processing centre in East Timor as a potential component of a broader regional plan to tackle people smuggling, Indonesia's foreign minister said on Thursday.

Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard floated the idea earlier this month in an effort to allay voter fears about rising boatpeople numbers in the lead-up to elections this year.

Australian Foreign Minister Stephen Smith was in Jakarta seeking Indonesia's support for the plan after it was rejected by the East Timor parliament last week.

But the plan received a cautious response from his Indonesian counterpart, Marty Natalegawa.

"Conversations are still to be had on this issue," Natalegawa told reporters. "Now, the idea of having a regional processing centre that the prime minister mentioned recently, we see as a potential component of such a regional framework."

"I can understand the rationale behind it. I am sure in days and weeks to come, as we further delve into it, we will have a better appreciation of what the whole concept is all about."

Local English-language newspaper the Jakarta Post on Thursday quoted an anonymous source "with knowledge of the issue" saying that Jakarta was concerned by the plan.

"We would like to know why the Australian government made a foreign country its first pick for a refugee centre? Why not a location within Australia?" the source was quoted as saying.

While the numbers of boatpeople arriving on Australian shores are small, border protection is a big concern for voters.

(Reporting by Sunanda Creagh; Editing by Sugita Katyal)

Copyright © 2010 Reuters

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