Australia, Indonesia boost anti-smuggling efforts

SYDNEY - Australia and Indonesia Tuesday agreed to work more closely to crack down on people-smuggling, with visiting President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono saying his people were victims of the trade as well.

Talks between Yudhoyono and Prime Minister Julia Gillard in Darwin have focused on the issue of boatpeople coming to Australia, mostly via transit ports in Indonesia, after scores drowned en route in recent weeks.

"In the field of preventing or combating people-smuggling and also human trafficking we have agreed to enhance greater cooperation," Yudhoyono told reporters.

"Indonesia is also a victim of the acts of illegal people smuggling. We hope that we can prevent, as far as possible, the act of people-smuggling in our region."

More than 90 people are thought to have died when two crowded asylum-seeker boats sank off the remote Australian territory of Christmas Island, near Indonesia's Java, in recent weeks.

In one incident, 110 people were saved but an estimated 90 drowned. In the second sinking, 130 were rescued but four people were lost.

Gillard said Australia and Indonesia cooperated strongly to combat people-smuggling and had discussed greater maritime collaboration.

Yudhoyono also welcomed the release of underage Indonesian nationals held in Australian jails after being detained as crew on people-smuggling vessels.

"They are also victims of acts of people-smuggling and no doubt we hope that the release of the remaining underage seafarers can be accelerated," he said through an interpreter.

The broad-ranging talks between the pair at the second annual Indonesia-Australia Leaders' Meeting also covered growing trade and security links between the neighbours.

"I believe problems which once threatened to divide us now only bring us closer together," said Gillard.

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