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Thursday, 30 August, 2001, 10:07 GMT 11:07 UK
Australia stands firm over boat people
Australian special forces head for the Tampa on 29 August
The troops now on board are ready to move the ship
Australia's Foreign Minister Alexander Downer has warned that a Norwegian ship carrying more than 400 asylum seekers will be moved out of Australian waters by force if necessary.

Australian SAS troops boarded the cargo ship, the Tampa, off the remote Christmas Island in the Indian Ocean on Wednesday, but the ship's captain is still refusing to leave the area.

If we are just a pushover and our traditional and usual generosity is just exploited by people-traffickers, then our country in turn will be damaged

Alexander Downer
Australian FM
Australia and Indonesia both insist they will not accept the boat people, who were picked up by the Tampa on Sunday when their ferry began sinking.

Mr Downer told the BBC that the Australian Government was trying to find another country to accept the migrants so they could be processed for refugee status, but the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Mary Robinson, has urged Australia to act immediately to allow the migrants ashore.

Mr Downer said Australian forces aboard the Tampa, which entered Australian waters without permission, were ready to move the vessel back out to sea, but he did not give operational details.

An Australian navy frigate is due at Christmas Island off the Australian coast on Friday.

'Ugly trade'

The foreign minister said Australia was talking to different governments to try to find a place for them to be processed by the UN's refugee agency.

Australia, Mr Downer said, would be ready to accept some, if they were declared to be genuine refugees.

But he said they wanted to send a message to the gangs who traffick illegally in people that Australia was determined to stop this "ugly trade."

" The ships come illegally into our waters and we, like any country, ... want to protect the territorial integrity of our country... and so we are still asking for the ship to leave."

Regional rejection

Indonesia, too, is standing firm, with its armed forces saying they will take military action to prevent the ship returning, the Associated Press news agency reported.

"We will not allow these illegal migrants into the country. The military is ready to take any measures to ensure the government is able to carry out this policy," armed forces spokesman Rear Marshal Graito Usodo told AP.

Refugee boat draws near the Tampa
The refugees were picked up on Sunday
Australian Prime Minister John Howard, who has made clear his government's determination to deter boat people, was to meet the Indonesian President, Megawati Sukarnoputri, on Thursday to discuss the crisis.

Overnight, the upper house of the Australian parliament rejected a bid by Mr Howard's government to tighten laws governing Australia's right to expel foreign ships.

But parliament did approve a law giving guards at detention centres the right to strip search detainees for weapons, including children as young as 10.

Diplomatic dispute

The Tampa and her captain, Arne Rinnan, have become embroiled in a three-way diplomatic dispute after rescuing the asylum seekers who were attempting to reach Australia in a rickety ferry.

Aerial view of the Tampa shows some of the rescued refugees on board
There are conflicting reports about the condition of those on board
Norway has reported Australia to the United Nations for refusing to allow the ship to enter its territory.

The men, women and children, mainly from Afghanistan, are stuck on a cargo ship designed to carry no more than 40.

They have been trying to escape high temperatures and strong sunlight by sitting under tarpaulins strapped between huge containers on deck.

Hans Christian Bangesmoen, spokesman for the ship's owners, told the BBC there was food enough for the next few days, but problems have emerged with the supply of fresh water.

International aid agencies are lobbying the Australian Government for access to the asylum seekers.

"The longer this situation goes on the worse it will become," said David Curtis, executive director of Medecins Sans Frontieres in Australia.

"We're strongly urging the Australian Government, on a humanitarian basis, to allow these stranded refugees to land on Christmas Island and receive medical attention."

The BBC's Dominic Hughes
"The ship's owners say it won't be moving"
Australian Foreign Minister, Alexander Downer
"We want to protect the territorial integrity of our country"
UN Human Rights Commissioner Mary Robinson
"This is a very serious issue"
Christmas Island councillor Gordon Thompson
"It brings great disgrace on our country"
See also:

13 Jul 01 | Asia-Pacific
Australia condemns vigilantes
31 Mar 01 | Asia-Pacific
Australia's migrant policy under fire
12 Feb 01 | Asia-Pacific
Boost for anti-immigrant party
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