Bali test looms for Timor plan

Karlis Salna, AAP South-East Asia Correspondent

March 22, 2011


Indonesia says the Bali Process remains the best forum for achieving a regional agreement on how best to deal with asylum seekers.

As pressure mounts on Prime Minister Julia Gillard over her asylum seeker policy, Indonesia on Tuesday affirmed it wanted a solution that deals with the issue in terms of the countries of origin, transit and destination.

Indonesia has not commented directly on Australia's proposal to build a regional refugee processing centre in East Timor, for which Australia will make its case at the Bali Process summit next week.

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The Australian plan has found little backing in the region, including in East Timor, where the main opposition party as recently as two weeks ago vowed to make it an issue in elections expected early next year.

East Timorese Prime Minister Xanana Gusmao met with Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono in Jakarta on Tuesday, but a spokesman for Dr Yudhoyono said the issue of asylum seekers and people smuggling was not discussed.

The president's spokesman on foreign affairs, Teuku Faizasyah, said such issues were best dealt with at next week's summit, adding that the regional processing centre plan should also be discussed within the Bali Process framework.

"The Bali Process is the most comprehensive regional architecture to deal with this issue (in) the country of origin, the traffic countries and country of destination," he said.

"It's still very much in line with Indonesian policy to discuss all these issues ... people smuggling, trafficking persons, at the Bali Process."

The Australian government is facing renewed pressure over the asylum seeker issue amid breakouts by detainees from the Christmas Island Detention Centre and overcrowding in facilities on the island and on the mainland.

There are now more than 6000 asylum seekers in detention in various facilities throughout the country.

Immigration Minister Chris Bowen, who will leadAustralia's delegation in Bali, earlier on Tuesday said he remained hopeful about gaining support for a regional solution to the asylum-seeker problem.

"It won't, of course, be the final sign-off on all the answers, but I am very hopeful that it will endorse governments working together on a regional basis to break the people smugglers' business model," he told ABC Radio, when asked about the chances of getting an agreement on a regional processing centre.

"Nobody should underestimate my or the government's determination to do that," Mr Bowen said.

© 2011 AAP
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