Two Indonesians jailed in Australia

SYDNEY: Two Indonesian fishermen were jailed for five years Wednesday for smuggling a boat full of Afghan refugees which exploded, killing five, after it was stopped by Australian border officials.

Mohamad Tahir and Beny, both 19, told the Northern Territory Supreme Court they came from poor families and were struggling to find work when they were offered 560 dollars (512 US) each to bring the boat to Australia.

Five asylum seekers died and dozens more were injured when the fishing boat carrying 49 people exploded at Ashmore Reef, northwest of Australia, on April 16.

Police said a fire on the boat was lit deliberately in a bid to force Australian officials to rescue those on board. A coroner's inquiry into the deaths continues.

Judge Dean Mildren said he had imposed the minimum mandatory sentence and would recommend the government intervene to free them after 12 months.

The boat's captain had abandoned ship a few days before it was intercepted by the Australian Navy, and the pair said they did not realise they would be jailed in Australia if caught.

"You were lured into the task, you expected to be caught, you were told you would return home after a short time," Mildren said.

"In regard to your ages and personal circumstances I recommend to the executive that you be considered to be released on licence after 12 months, if in fact you are able to provide any assistance to the authorities," he added.

April's blast reignited controversy over the plight of asylum seekers in Australia, a debate which is still raging with some 35 illegal boats arriving this year.

Canberra is currently engaged in a stand-off with Jakarta over 78 Sri Lankan asylum seekers rescued in Indonesian waters, who were also accused of sabotaging their boat.

The treatment of refugees has been a sensitive issue in Australia since the previous conservative government incorrectly accused a group of asylum seekers of throwing children into the sea to avoid capture by the navy in 2001.