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NEW ZEALAND / BOAT PEOPLE - 2001-08-31


INTRO: New Zealand Prime Minister Helen Clark says her government is prepared to take some of the Afghan refugees stranded on a Norwegian freighter off the Australian territory of Christmas Island. Janice Aplin reports from Wellington.

TEXT: The government in Wellington has confirmed it has been formally approached by United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees to help end the stalemate.

Prime Minister Clark said New Zealand might be willing to accept some of the asylum seekers - but not all because it would place a considerable strain on the country's refugee facilities.

The opposition has criticized the offer as sending a message that New Zealand is soft on the issue of smuggling illegal migrants.

The crisis began late Sunday when a Norwegian cargo ship rescued about 460 mostly Afghani from a sinking ferry that had been illegally transporting them to Australia. Australia is providing medicine and food to the ship but is refusing it entry.

The freighter remains anchored off Australia's Christmas Island, while Australia, Indonesia, Norway and the United Nations discuss options. (SIGNED)

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