Tue Apr 18, 2:17 AM ET
SYDNEY (AFP) - Australia will not apologise to Indonesia for granting temporary asylum to 42 people including several independence activists from the troubled province of Papua, Prime Minister John Howard said.
Howard announced tough new asylum laws last week after Indonesia expressed outrage over the issue, but indicated in a radio interview that attempts to repair relations with Jakarta would not extend to saying sorry.
Asked whether Australia needed to issue an apology, Howard replied : "No".
"I understand the sensitivity of the Papuan issue in Indonesia, just as I would hope the people of Indonesia would understand that in Australia there are certain processes that are followed because of the type of country we are," he said.
Jakarta withdrew its ambassador to Canberra after last month’s granting of temporary protection visas to the asylum-seekers fearing that it signalled Australian support for Papuan independence.
Howard, who painstakingly rebuilt ties with Jakarta after the fall-out over independence for
East Timor, has repeatedly stressed his support for a united Indonesia under President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono.
Australia is sending its most senior diplomat, Department of Foreign Affairs head Michael L’Estrange, to Jakarta this week to try and soothe tensions.
Howard said he expected to talk directly to the Indonesian president after L’Estrange’s visit.
"This is a difficult issue. It’s not an insurmountable problem, it’s not an insoluble one. I’m sure we can work our way through it, but it will take time," he told commercial radio.
Howard denied that the recent hardening of Australian policy towards asylum-seekers was an attempt to appease Indonesia.
"We haven’t bent over backwards at all. We have made some changes. If they have the consequence of making a contribution to improving the bilateral relationship, well, that is a good thing," he said.
Under the new policy, introduced last week, asylum-seekers arriving in Australia by boat will be detained on one of three islands until they can be sent to another country.
The islands are Nauru, Manus Island in Papua New Guinea and Christmas Island, used previously in Australia’s so-called "Pacific Solution" aimed at stemming the flow of refugees from
The policy change has been strongly criticised by rights activists who say it breaches Australia’s obligations to refugees under international law.