6 Apr 2006

Australian customs calls off search for Papuans

10:18 am on 6 April 2006

The Australian Customs Service has called off the search for a boatload of Papuans thought to be on an island in the Torres Strait, saying the group is not in Australian waters.

Reports emerged yesterday that six asylum seekers from the Indonesian province had landed on an island in Australia's north.

Human rights groups say union organiser Paulus Samkakai had fled with his wife and four children from the southern port of Merauke over the weekend.

But Customs last night said the group was not there.

Customs had mounted a comprehensive aerial search for the Papuans and investigated a number of possible landing sites.

Relations between Indonesia and Australia have been strained since late last month when Australia granted temporary protection visas to 42 Papuan asylum seekers.