Xanana Gusmao slaps down PM's plan

Breaking his silence on the asylum-seeker plan Julia Gillard revealed eight months ago, Mr Gusmao said Dili would not have a bar of the idea, according to a report in The Economist magazine.

The report says he "finally put the idea out of its misery" during an interview in London on March 7, in the wake of the Gillard government's insistence the Timor plan remained a live option, despite a chorus of criticism.

"Chief among Mr Gusmao's reasons for opposing the processing centre is the fact that he would not be able to explain to his poor countrymen why foreign asylum-seekers would be entitled to international-grade healthcare, food, clothing and schooling for their children while so many Timorese are not," the magazine says.

News of Mr Gusmao's rejection came as detention centre workers on Christmas Island were told the Immigration Department would open at least one new mainland facility to accommodate the exodus from the tiny Australian territory in the wake of riots that left parts of the centre burnt out and destroyed last month.

Officials for government contractor Serco briefed guards yesterday on Labor's plans to announce the opening of a new onshore immigration detention facility, as preparations were being made for almost 700 asylum-seekers to be shifted off the island in coming weeks.

News of the briefing came as contractors were called in to resume works at the Curtin detention centre in far north Western Australia and sources close to the construction of such facilities said work was being discussed for a Tasmanian-based centre.

Mr Gusmao is a towering figure in East Timor, making it extremely difficult for Australia to negotiate a processing centre while he remains opposed to it.

East Timor did not rate a mention at the two-day people-smuggling summit of 41 member states held this week in Bali.

Mr Gusmao's intervention into the debate about a processing centre came as the Prime Minister repeated that Timor would remain her focus.

Opposition immigration spokesman Scott Morrison said the East Timor plan had died "a death of 1000 hints" and called on the government to scrap the proposal.

lIndonesia yesterday arrested 43 Afghans who were trying to reach Australia, a day after Asian nations pledged to work together to tackle people-smuggling.

Additional reporting: Paige Taylor, Lanai Vasek, AFP

Source: The Australian

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