Indonesia proposes Australia asylum talks

Indonesia's president has offered to
hold a regional meeting on people-
smuggling, at talks with new
Australian leader Kevin Rudd.
The talks should involve countries of
origin, transit and destination, a joint
communique said.
In recent months the number of asylum
seekers arriving by boat in Australia via
Indonesia has increased sharply.
It is expected to be one of the key issues
in Australia's general election, due later
this year.
The meeting between President Susilo
Bambang Yudhoyono and Prime Minister
Kevin Rudd, which took place in Bogor,
near Jakarta, also focused on the cattle
trade.
It was Mr Rudd's first overseas visit since
he ousted Julia Gillard as Labor Party
leader last week.
Mr Rudd has indicated he will move the
election - currently set for 14 September
- but has not specified a date.
'No unilateral actions'
Boat arrivals in Australia have soared in
the past year, with most asylum seekers
coming from Iraq, Iran, Sri Lanka and
Afghanistan. They make their way to
Indonesia and from there head to
Christmas Island, the closest part of
Australian territory to Java.
Last year, the government reintroduced
a controversial policy under which
people arriving by boat in Australia are
sent to camps in Nauru and Papua New
Guinea for processing.
It said the move was needed to prevent
people making the dangerous journey to
Australia on overcrowded and rickety
boats, several of which have sunk in
recent years.
But the policy has been strongly
criticised by rights groups and has so far
failed to deter new arrivals.
As the two leaders met, agencies from
both nations were involved in a search
for a vessel carrying 80 asylum seekers
that was reported to be in distress off
Java.
Later reports citing Indonesian officials
suggested it had fixed its engine and was
continuing its journey.
A communique issued after the meeting
between Mr Rudd and Mr Yudhoyono
stressed "the importance of avoiding
unilateral actions which might jeopardise
such a comprehensive regional approach
and might cause operational and other
difficulties to any party".
This has been interpreted as a reference
to Australian opposition leader Tony
Abbott's plans to turn back asylum boats
to Indonesia if safe to do so.
Instead it called for a multilateral
approach involving inviting "key origin,
transit and destination countries" to a
conference "to explore concrete
operational and policy responses,
including regional approaches and
efforts to enhance border security".
"Everybody must take responsibility and
must take concrete action," AFP news
agency quoted Mr Yudhoyono as saying.
"It is unfair if only Indonesia and
Australia are burdened with this."
The communique gave no date for the
talks but Australian media reports said
they were expected within a month.
Mr Rudd welcomed the move. "This
problem of people smuggling is a
problem for our entire region, therefore
the president's initiative is for all of us to
work together," the Australian
Broadcasting Corporation quoted him as
saying.
Mr Rudd also pledged funding to help
develop Indonesia's cattle industry while
calling for quotas on Australia cattle
imports to be lifted, ABC reported.