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Australia grants visas to Indonesia asylum seekers

The Australian government has granted temporary visas to dozens of Indonesian asylum seekers.
None | By Associated Press, Sydney
PUBLISHED ON MAR 23, 2006 10:41 AM IST

The Australian government said on Thursday that it had granted temporary visas to dozens of Indonesian asylum seekers in a move that risks straining relations with Jakarta. Immigration Minister Amanda Vanstone said 42 of a group of 43 people from the Indonesian province of Papua had been granted temporary protection visas, which entitle them to stay in Australia for three years.

The 36 adults and seven children, who spent five days at sea before landing on a remote beach at Cape York in northeastern Australia in January, accused the Indonesian military of conducting genocide in their homeland while putting down a separatist movement. Indonesia insisted that the migrants have nothing to fear in Papua and demanded that Australia send them home, warning that its relations with Canberra could suffer if the group were granted asylum.

Vanstone said the 42 people would be transferred from Christmas Island, a remote Australian territory in the Indian Ocean, which is used as a holding camp for asylum seekers, to the southern city of Melbourne.

She said a decision was still pending on one of the asylum seekers.

Papua was integrated into Indonesia in 1969 after a referendum, since dismissed as a sham. A small separatist movement has battled Jakarta's rule ever since.

Rights groups and foreign governments accuse security forces in Papua of committing extrajudicial killings and torture in the province. Activists say at least 100,000 Papuans -- one sixth of the original population -- have perished as a result of combat operations since the Indonesian occupation.

Indonesian generals have routinely defended human rights abuses by their troops in independence-minded provinces such as Aceh, East Timor or Papua, claiming they were acts of individual soldiers and not a part of military policy.

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