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Australia Apologizes to Indonesia Over Border Incursions

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Jan. 17 (Bloomberg) -- Australia apologized to Indonesia after border protection vessels mistakenly entered the southeast Asian nation’s waters, threatening to further damage ties strained by spying allegations.

Australia’s embassy in Jakarta apologized over the incursions, Immigration Minister Scott Morrison told reporters in Canberra today. Angus Campbell, the military commander leading efforts to stem the flow of asylum seekers arriving in Australian waters by boat, said a review was underway.

“A formal apology was provided by our post in Jakarta today,” Morrison said. “There are often difficult times in relationships and these current few months have, I think, been a case like that.”

Prime Minister Tony Abbott’s government pledged before the election last September to stop asylum seekers reaching Australian shores, many ferried by people smugglers in unseaworthy vessels from the Indonesian archipelago. Indonesia halted military cooperation late last year after the Australian Broadcasting Corp. reported that Australian intelligence agencies had tapped Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono’s phone.

The Indonesian government rejected the territorial violation and said any incursion was a “serious problem for both countries’ relationship,” the office of the coordinating minister for politics, law and security said today in a statement. Indonesia demanded the actions not be repeated and pledged to intensify patrols in the area.

Morrison said earlier this week that the government had overseen an 80 percent reduction in asylum seeker boat arrivals. The Sydney Morning Herald reported today that Australia’s Navy returned 56 asylum seekers to Indonesian waters in a lifeboat.

To contact the reporter on this story: Michael Heath in Sydney at mheath1@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Rosalind Mathieson at rmathieson3@bloomberg.net