CANBERRA, Australia (AP) — Australia apologized on Friday for its border patrol boats entering Indonesian waters without permission, a breach of sovereignty that prompted an angry Indonesia to demand Australia suspend such operations against asylum seeker boats.
The number of asylum seekers from Iran, Afghanistan, Myanmar and elsewhere reaching Australia in rickety Indonesian fishing boats has soared in recent years, and Prime Minister Tony Abbott has promised to take tougher steps to block them.
The incident could further hurt relations between the neighboring nations that are already strained over the alleged Australian bugging of phones belonging to Indonesia President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, his wife and members of his inner circle in 2009.
In Jakarta, senior Australia diplomat David Engel visited the Foreign Affairs Ministry and formally conveyed his country's apology to the Indonesian government. Australian Border Protection Minister Scott Morrison called the incursions "a very serious matter" and "extremely regrettable," and promised that efforts would be made so they do not happen again. Australia's navy chief had already apologized to his Indonesian counterpart, he added.
Lt. Gen. Angus Campbell, who as commander of Operation Sovereign Borders oversees Australia's efforts to stop boats full of asylum seekers traveling from Indonesian ports, said he became aware on Wednesday that Australian vessels had traveled through Indonesian waters "on several occasions."
He would not say how many vessels were involved, or where and when the breaches took place. Indonesian Foreign Minister Marty Natalegawa said Jakarta deplored the incursions and demanded a specific explanation from Australia about the incident and that steps be taken to avoid such violations in the future.
Indonesia wants to address the asylum-seeker issue in a comprehensive manner, he said. "Australia's unilateral operations are not helpful," he said in Bagan, Myanmar, where he was attending a meeting of regional foreign ministers.
The country will also intensify its maritime patrols, said Agus Barnas, spokesman for Indonesia's Coordinating Ministry for Law and Security.
Associated Press writer Niniek Karmini in Jakarta, Indonesia, and cameramen Hau Dinh in Bagan, Myanmar, contributed to this report.