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AUSTRALIA / MIGRANTS - 2001-08-30


Australia is seeking top level talks with Indonesia to try to resolve an impasse over who will take in more than 400 asylum seekers on board a Norwegian freighter stranded in the Indian Ocean.

Australian Prime Minister John Howard told parliament he hopes to hold direct talks with Indonesian President Megawati Sukarnoputri by telephone on the crisis.

But he also reiterated that the Norwegian ship - which remains anchored near Australia's remote Christmas Island - must return to international waters.

Earlier, Australia's Senate rejected a bid by Mr. Howard to strengthen laws governing Australia's right to turn away boats carrying refugees

Heavily-armed Australian troops seized control of the Norwegian freighter Wednesday after its captain defied orders not to enter Australian waters.

On Sunday Australia asked the captain of the Norwegian ship to rescue the asylum seekers from a crippled Indonesian ferry on its way to Australia.

Indonesia and Australia have both said they are not responsible for the refugees.

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Norway has lodged formal complaints with the United Nations and the International Red Cross over Australia's refusal to accept the asylum seekers.

The Norwegian ship's owners say the freighter will remain in Australian waters because it is not equipped to carry the migrants elsewhere.

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