Dili identifies site for refugee centre

Daniel Flitton

September 14, 2010

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Julia Gillard's plan to turn East Timor into a regional hub to process refugee claims has been boosted after the government in Dili identified a possible site in the country's south to house asylum seekers.

In an early sign that the Prime Minister's ''Timor solution'' is being taken seriously in Dili, it is believed the township of Suai in the south has been singled out for consideration.

Ms Gillard laid out what was dubbed the ''Timor solution'' in June before the election in a bid to stymie relentless opposition criticism of Labor's border protection policies.

Despite widespread scepticism about the plan in East Timor and Australia, official talks on the proposal are about to start.

The Timorese Prime Minister, Xanana Gusmao, is expected to speak with Ms Gillard by phone this week to congratulate her on forming government and discuss the next steps.

The talks come at a delicate time for Mr Gusmao's coalition government after the resignation of his deputy last week.

While it has been stressed that Suai is just a possible site for asylum seeker processing, an airstrip to the east of the town is said to have potential for expansion and there are hopes to construct a port. It is also the region where East Timor's government is proposing to build a refinement plant to pipe gas from offshore fields.

Dili is in dispute with the resources giant Woodside over the development of the Sunrise gas field in the Timor Sea.

Woodside wants to build a floating refinery and deliver gas south to Darwin. Dili is insisting on an onshore refinery.

The Timorese President, Jose Ramos-Horta, who will lead the negotiations with Australia on the asylum centre, reacted indignantly in July to suggestions the two issues might be linked.

source: The Sydney Morning Herald

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