Jakarta hits back at Canberra over asylum seekers

Jakarta hits back at Canberra over asylum seekers

JAKARTA - The government rebuffed on Tuesday Australia's claim that Indonesia was responsible for the fate of a group of asylum seekers at the centre of a maritime standoff between the two neighbouring countries as they were rescued in Indonesia's search-and-rescue zone.

Coordinating Political, Legal and Security Affairs Minister Djoko Su-yanto told reporters at the State Palace on Tuesday that they were Australia's responsibility because they were rescued by an Australian vessel. "They sent the distress call [to Australia] because they wanted to get help from Australia, not from us," the minister said. "If the distress call was sent to us, we would have taken them back to Indonesia."

Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott was quoted as saying by The Sydney Morning Herald earlier on Tuesday that Indonesia must respect international law and should have taken the asylum seekers, who were taken to Australia's Christmas Island following a standoff.

"These people were in a search-and-rescue situation in the Indonesian search-and-rescue zone,'' Abbott said. "Now, the normal international law is that if you are rescued in a country's search-and-rescue zone that country has an obligation to take you."

The fresh row over the asylum seekers between Jakarta and Canberra deepens with officials from both countries issuing conflicting statements about the issue.

Djoko hit out at Australian Immigration and Border Protection Minister Scott Morrison who said that Indonesia's stance on the boat people was confusing, citing the fact that Indonesia accepted two boatloads of asylum seekers before rejecting the two others.

Djoko insisted that Jakarta's stance on the boat people has never changed. "It is strange for them to say that there is a change because there is no change," he said.

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