Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott has declined to rebut a charge that his government was involved in paying people smugglers to turn back boats carrying would-be asylum seekers, saying Canberra is determined "by hook or by crook" to stop illegal migration.
Indonesia claims that a payment of $23,000 was made to human traffickers to return 65 would-be migrants to the Indonesian island of Rote, located about 520 miles west of Darwin, The Financial Times reports.
Asked in an interview on Australia's 3AW whether there was any truth to the charge, Abbott responded: "We don't comment on operational matters but we are determined to ensure that illegal boats don't get to Australia. And, we will do whatever is reasonably necessary to protect our country from people smuggling and from the effect of this evil and damaging trade that costs lives."
Interviewer Neil Mitchell pressed the prime minister: "But surely we wouldn't pay people smugglers? They're criminals."
Abbott replied: "Well, what we do is we stop the boats by hook or by crook because that's what we've got to do and that's what we've successfully done. I just don't want to go into the details of how it's done."
The original claim of a payment to smugglers was made by the police chief on Rote, who says he saw the money exchange hands.
Hidayat, who like many Indonesians uses only one name, told Agence France-Presse that Australian officials told the traffickers "to take two smaller boats and turn back into Indonesia after the money changed hands."