Indonesia suspends cooperation with Australia on people-smuggling

Indonesia suspends cooperation with Australia on people-smuggling

JAKARTA - Indonesia's police confirmed they had suspended cooperation with their Australian counterparts after a diplomatic rift between the neighbours, raising the possibility of a surge in asylum seekers heading to Australia from Indonesian shores.

The rift over reports last week that Canberra spied on top Indonesians is straining ties already soured by pressure from Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott's government since it was elected in September to return asylum-seeker boats to Indonesia, which Jakarta has resisted.

Asylum seekers, many from South Asia and the Middle East, often try to reach Australia via Indonesia.

"Cooperation over people-smuggling has been stopped for now, according to the president's instructions," National Police Chief General Sutarman told Reuters in a text message late on Sunday.

"Now we are still waiting for further instructions."

He declined to give details.

The diplomatic row has pushed relations between the two countries to their lowest point since the late 1990s.

Reports that Australia had tried to monitor the telephones of top Indonesian officials in 2009 were based on documents leaked by former US National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden.

The police had earlier said they had not received specific instructions after President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono announced that Indonesia was suspending military and intelligence cooperation with Australia, including on the politically sensitive issue of asylum seekers.

That cooperation involves both the military and police to monitor and prevent so-called boat people heading to Australia.

But the breakdown in ties means asylum seekers will now face fewer obstacles in sailing from Indonesia.

The steady flow of refugee boats is a hot political issue in Australia, polarising voters.

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