Subject: RT: Indonesia, E.Timor, Australia warn people smugglers

Indonesia, E.Timor, Australia warn people smugglers

By Joanne Collins

NUSA DUA, Indonesia, Feb 26 (Reuters) - Indonesia, East Timor and Australia warned people smugglers on Tuesday that their trade would not be as lucrative as it once was because of growing regional co-operation to crack down on the crime.

The comments came just ahead of a transnational crime conference here on the resort island of Bali this week focusing on people smuggling, which will be attended by more than 30 foreign ministers.

The Southeast Asian neighbours also put aside their differences at a landmark trilateral meeting to announce plans to cooperate on other issues such as combatting terrorism and increasing security.

East Timor, sandwiched between the two vast countries, said it could not afford to bicker with either neighbour, especially once it achieved formal independence on May 20 this year.

"East Timor, in the early days of independence will be in particular need of the friendship our neighbours can provide," tiny East Timor's chief minister Mari Alkatiri told reporters at the opening of the day-long talks.

He said it was also important the three countries pull together following the September 11 hijack attacks on New York and Washington which killed more than 3,000 people. "After September 11, we all need to rely on each other more than ever."


The issue of people smuggling has driven a wedge between Indonesia and Australia in the past year amid a rising tide of mainly Afghan and Middle Eastern refugees arriving in the vast continent from Indonesia.

But Australian Foreign Minister Alexander Downer said Indonesia had been doing a "very good job" in combatting people smuggling and people smugglers were starting to realise they could no longer make easy money from the trade.

"We've got the countries of the region now co-operating on this issue like never before," he told a news conference at the end of the talks.

Indonesia does not have laws to deal with people smuggling but Foreign Minister Hassan Wirayuda said the activity should be punishable by law. "There are organised syndicates dealing in this (people smuggling). Yes, it must be illegal," he said.


The day-long talks, described as frank but cordial, were mainly about exchanging ideas rather than concrete actions.

Australia did, however, commit A$8.5 million ($4.4 million), through various U.N. agencies and non-government organisations, for internally displaced people within Indonesia and focusing on food aid, education assistance and support for recovery activities in strife-torn Maluku.

Australia said it would also contribute A$6.6 million to address the lingering problem of an estimated 60,000 East Timorese refugees in West Timor. An estimated 250,000 East Timorese were forced across the border into Indonesian West Timor after the independence vote.


As well as looking at ways to tackle terrorism and people smuggling, the three countries ironed out a raft of issues that have dogged their relationship over the past two-and-a-half years.

"Whatever the history of Indonesia, East Timor and Australia, this meeting represents a very substantial step forward in the relationship," said Indonesia's Wirayuda.

Ties between the three hit rock bottom in late 1999 when Australia led a multinational force in East Timor to stem widespread violence triggered by the territory's overwhelming vote to break from 24 years of brutal Indonesian rule.

Tuesday's talks followed a day of high-level bilateral discussions between Indonesia and East Timor.

(A$1 - US$0.514)

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