Indonesia says Australia forced asylum seekers back to sea

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JAKARTA, Indonesia — Australian officials destroyed a boat carrying asylum seekers and then pushed them back to sea in another vessel, Indonesia said Friday.

Foreign Office chief of multilateral affairs Hasan Kleib expressed concern that Australia took the action on its own.

"We are concerned when some countries like Australia, rather than informing us or working with us, take unilateral action and push back boats," he said.

Sixteen migrants from India, Nepal and Bangladesh and their Indonesian skipper were found stranded in Indonesia's part of Timor Island on Thursday.

The skipper, who is being questioned by police, said he was paid 22 million rupiah ($1,600) to transport the migrants from Pelabuhan Ratu on the southwest coast of West Java to Australia. They left Nov. 18 and arrived at Christmas Island on Nov. 23.

The migrants reportedly said Australian officials destroyed the boat that carried them to the Australian territory of Christmas Island. They said they were detained for four days before they were pushed back out to sea in a new boat.

Australian Border Protection Minister Peter Dutton refused to comment, maintaining a government policy of secrecy surrounding people smuggling operations.

Indonesia's many islands are a popular transit point for people fleeing war-ravaged countries on their way to Australia.

The incident happened as Jakarta is holding a regional meeting attended by representatives of Australia and 13 other countries to discuss the root causes of the refugee crisis.

"Talk to us, call our law enforcement on what to do with this, rather than just shifting the burden, shifting the responsibility back to Indonesia," Kleib told reporters on the sidelines of the meeting.

He said he hoped the incident would not become a stumbling block in overall cooperation between the two countries.

Associated Press writer Rod McGuirk in Canberra, Australia, contributed to this report.

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