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Reports of more Papuan boat people: Australia

Written by: Staff

CANBERRA, Apr 5: Australia is investigating reports today that a second boatload of asylum seekers from Indonesia's troubled Papua province had landed in northern Australia.

Ties between Australia and Indonesia became strained last month after Canberra granted asylum to 42 Papuan refugees, who arrived in late January after sailing for five days in a traditional outrigger.

A spokesman for Immigration Minister Amanda Vanstone confirmed there were reports another group of Papuans had reached Australia, but that it was an operational matter and no further comment would be made.

The Age and The Sydney Morning Herald newspapers today reported that a union activist, his wife and their four children, including a two-month-old baby, had now landed on a remote northern Australian island.

The newspapers quoted a Catholic priest from the West Papuan town of Merauke, who said two fishermen had dropped the family at an island, known locally as Bamboo Island, on Sunday.

''They cannot stay there for too long. They only have some packages of instant noodles and canned fish only to survive for a few days,'' the priest said.

Papuan independence activists have campaigned for more than 30 years to break away from Indonesia, while a low-level rebellion has also simmered. Some of the most prominent support for the separatists is from organisations in Australia.

Human rights groups accuse Indonesia of widespread abuses there, and the Papuans who sought asylum said they feared becoming victims of genocide. Jakarta denies such charges.

Australia's Immigration Department granted 42 Papuan asylum seekers three-year protection visas last month, despite Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono calling Australian Prime Minister John Howard to ask that they be returned.

Yudhoyono said on Monday that Jakarta and Canberra's relationship needed to be reviewed, questioned Australia's support for Indonesian sovereignty, and said doubt had been cast on a deal to cooperate on illegal migration.

Ties between the two countries are traditionally volatile and hit a low in 1999, when Australia led peacekeepers into the former Indonesian province of East Timor to quell militia violence.

But the relationship later improved, with close anti-terrorism cooperation after the 2002 bombings on the Indonesian resort island of Bali which killed scores of Australians, and Canberra's prompt aid following the devastating tsunami of 2004.


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