SBY Receives Warm Reception, Top Honors in Visit to Australia

President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono inspecting
Australia’s Federation Guard
on his arrival in Canberra on Tuesday.
He is to address the nation’s Parliament
before departing to Sydney

President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono received Australia’s highest civilian honor on Tuesday, the first day of his first official visit to the country after winning re-election last year. After landing in Canberra, Yudhoyono grinned as he stepped off the Garuda Indonesia plane and spotted a cluster of well-wishers waving Indonesian flags. He stopped to shake hands with Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd and Governor General Quentin Bryce. Bryce later formally awarded the president the Order of Australia in recognition of his commitment to improving ties between the countries. Rudd, announcing the award for the former general, said: “President Yudhoyono is a true friend of Australia. President Yudhoyono has also been a champion of democracy and of economic development for the people of Indonesia.” But talks between Yudhoyono and Australian officials are expected to take a more serious turn during his three-day visit, with the issue of asylum seekers high on the agenda. Yudhoyono is also expected to highlight the issue during his address to Parliament today. Australia’s government has come under increasing pressure domestically to find a solution to the surge in asylum seekers finding their way by boat into the nation’s waters over the past year. Indonesia has become a major launching point for Sri Lankans, Afghans and Iraqis seeking a better life in Australia. Tension over the issue grew in October, when Indonesia and Australia struggled to figure out what to do about a group of Sri Lankan asylum seekers picked up by an Australian customs ship from a boat stranded by engine problems in Indonesian waters.For a month, the asylum seekers refused to leave the ship, and Australia insisted they were Indonesia’s responsibility. After discussions between Rudd and Yudhoyono, Indonesia eventually agreed to accept them temporarily, and some have since been sent to Australia. The two countries have also been at odds over the 1975 killing of five Australia-based journalists during a covert attack by Indonesian forces on East Timor in the weeks before the former Portuguese colony was officially invaded. In September, Australia launched a war-crimes investigation after a coroner found the killings were deliberate and probably ordered by senior Indonesian officials. Indonesia says the journalists were killed accidentally in a crossfire between Indonesian troops and East Timorese. Yudhoyono has warned that the investigation could strain his country’s relations with Canberra. Yudhoyono is scheduled to fly to Sydney tonight to meet with business leaders.

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