The row between the Australian and Indonesian governments over how the 78 Tamil asylum seekers, who are still on board the MV Oceanic Viking and are themselves in a stand-off with the Indonesian authorities, is deepening.
Yesterday, PM Kevin Rudd told the Australian parliament: "The Indonesian authorities have advised the government that women and children will be offered the option of staying in a house near the Tanjung Pinang detention facility. Women and children will be offered the option of staying in a house near the Tanjung Pinang detention facility." But senior Indonesian officials have rejected the claim outright: "We've already got a detention centre and in it we already separate men and women," a senior official at the Indonesian Foreign Ministry is quoted as saying. "Indonesia does not need to be directed how to act. We've gotten the detention centre ready and we've already helped Australia for humanitarian reasons. There is commitment from both sides, and Indonesia has the commitment, but Indonesia is not your country."
Officials are continuing to negotiate with the Tamils, who have been on the Oceanic Viking for 11 days now. The Tamils want to be allowed to proceed on to Australia (they have already turned down an offer of repatriation from the Sri Lankan ambassador) and are refusing health and identity checks. Some have even apparently threatened suicide. The Indonesians for their part do not wish their territory to become a processing centre for Australia-bound 'boat people' and appear to feel they are being 'stitched up' by the Australian government. So it looks as if Rudd's attempt to forge an 'Indonesian solution' (as opposed to the previous government's 'Pacific solution' policy) is a bit of a non-starter.
Despite the best efforts of the Australian crew of the MV Oceanic Viking, the Tamils on board have managed to get in contact with their fellow Tamils on board the Jaya Lestari 5, the wooden cargo boat moored with 251 asylum seekers in the Western Java port of Merak, who are also engaged in their own stand-off with the Indonesians.
Also, 66 of the Malaysian Tamils being held at the Pekan Nenas detention centre, some of whom had been on hunger strike, have been released by the Malaysian authorities.