Some Indonesians rankled by PM-elect Abbott's plans for refugees

Some Indonesians rankled by PM-elect Abbott's plans for refugees
Australian customs officials and navy personnel escort asylum-seekers onto Christmas Island August 21, 2013, after they were rescued by the Australian Navy ship HMAS Parramatta from a crowded boat.

INDONESIA - Several Indonesian observers and MPs voiced their displeasure at incoming Australian prime minister Tony Abbott even as Indonesian officials said an Abbott government would see little change to strong ties between their two countries.

These observers said Mr Abbott's plans to unilaterally stop and turn back boats carrying third-country asylum seekers from Indonesian sites to Australia could harm bilateral ties, and called on their government to send a tough signal that the prime minister-elect cannot follow through with his campaign proposals.

They include paying coastal village heads in the archipelago for information, buying up old Indonesian fishing boats and deploying Australian policemen to Indonesia to stem human smuggling.

"Mr Abbott came up with these programmes as if Indonesia is a part of Australia, without sovereignty," Professor Hikmahanto Juwana, dean of Universitas Indonesia's law faculty, said in a statement on Sunday.

"He insults the government of Indonesia, making us mercenaries doing his dirty work for the sake of money," he added, calling on the government to speak out against these plans lest it lose the trust of Indonesians.

Mr Mahfudz Siddiq, head of Parliament's foreign affairs commission, described the proposals as "degrading and offensive to the dignity of Indonesians".

Officials were, however, more circumspect in their comments, preferring to take a wait-and-see attitude. Presidential spokesman for foreign affairs Teuku Faizasyah told reporters he saw little change in bilateral ties, noting that relations were also strengthened during the previous Liberal- National government under Mr John Howard.

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