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Sunday, 2 September, 2001, 21:56 GMT 22:56 UK
Norway intensifies pressure on Australia
The Norwegian ambassador, Ove Thorsheim, escorted by Australian police
Norway's ambassador: Highly critical of Australia
By Tony Samstag in Oslo

Norwegian pressure on the Australian Government over its handling of the Afghan refugee crisis has intensified over the weekend, with some of the strongest language ever used against a friendly power.

There is no doubt that the government in Oslo is genuinely concerned over the fate of more than 400 asylum seekers stranded on a Norwegian cargo ship, the Tampa, in Australian waters.

Australian PM John Howard
Mr Howard is seeking to prevent further such crises

But it is far from irrelevant that parliamentary elections are now barely a week away, and here is one issue on which politicians can take a strong stand in perfect safety.

Norway is famously a seafaring nation, and the Norwegian captain, Arne Rinnan, and his crew are perceived here as innocent victims of Australian intransigence.

Act of war

Several commentators have pointed out that Australian legislators last week came perilously close to authorising an act of war against the Tampa, including, in effect, authorisation to shoot the captain.

Captain Rinnan is now, of course, a national hero.

Portrait of the Tampa captain
Arne F Rinnan, the captain of the Tampa

In a letter to the Australian ambassador, Norwegian Foreign Minister Thorbjorn Jagland writes that this matter, as he puts it, "creates serious doubts as to the working of international commitments and arrangements for passengers of ships".

The problems outlined here must be addressed as soon as possible, by the International Maritime Organisation.

In a newspaper interview Mr Jagland says that the Australians' plans for dealing with the refugees are inhumane and, perhaps in a reference to Australia's own history, remind him of the transportation of convicts.

Other Norwegian government spokesmen have reiterated the view that the proposed Australian solution to the crisis is illegal, and that the proposal to ship the refugees to New Zealand and the island of Nauru, is unacceptable under international law.

See also:

01 Sep 01 | Asia-Pacific
Pacific states step into the breach
01 Sep 01 | South Asia
Pakistan halts deportations
31 Aug 01 | Asia-Pacific
Australia defiant in refugee standoff
30 Aug 01 | Asia-Pacific
Australia seeks help over boat people
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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