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By Craig Skehan

YAREN, Nauru (October 5, 2001 – The Age)---After almost a month aboard the HMAS Manoora, the last of the asylum seekers finally set foot on the shores of Nauru yesterday -- freeing the ship for possible deployment to the military build-up massing against Afghanistan.

But the transfer of the boat people -- mainly Iraqis -- was not without more trauma and tears.

A doctor had to be sent aboard an Australian Navy landing craft to treat women and children, apparently for heat exhaustion.

In one of the six groups to come off the Manoora, 166 people in all, some children were seen to be crying or otherwise distressed.

On three occasions asylum seekers were left on the landing craft in extreme heat while negotiators tried to convince them to leave.

Despite the heat, one group of about 30 asylum seekers refused to budge for about 90 minutes before giving in.

Women in Muslim head scarves crouched down, surrounded by soldiers, trying to find patches of shade.

All of the 224 asylum seekers from the intercepted Indonesian vessel, the Aceng, defied the Australian Government for two weeks by refusing to be taken from the Manoora to an Australian-built detention center on Nauru. They were transferred onto the Navy vessel after their boat was intercepted by Australian authorities on September 7.

On Monday the Australian Government used force to remove 12 Iraqi leaders from the Manoora, despite statements from the Nauru Government that it would accept only voluntary arrivals.

Then on Wednesday, Australia broke a commitment to Nauru, given on Tuesday, that Nauruan officials would be allowed to go out to the Manoora to ascertain that all transfers were voluntary.

Although Nauruan officials boarded the Manoora yesterday, the three groups of asylum seekers refused to come ashore at a boat landing area on Nauru.

It was the heat, and in some cases the intervention of asylum seekers brought from the detention center to speak with them, which broke the deadlocks.

Nauru's Secretary to Government, Mathew Batsiua, said last night he was confident that, with Nauruan observers on the ship, force had not been used to remove the last of the asylum seekers. He said he was pleased the drawn-out transfer was finally over.

"We can now get on with the real business of processing their asylum claims," he said.

Mr. Batsiua said that journalists and camera crews had been moved back from the landing area to avoid asylum seekers staging resistance to attract media coverage.

A spokeswoman for Immigration Minister Philip Ruddock said some asylum seekers did yell out to waiting media but they did not make any demands and eventually left the landing barges voluntarily.

Defense Minister Peter Reith yesterday said the President of Nauru was happy with the disembarkation.

He visited President Rene Harris in a hospital in Melbourne. "We did have a chance to talk about things in Nauru and he reconfirmed his support for the arrangement already in place for those people to come off HMAS Manoora," Mr. Reith said.

The timing of the disembarkation coincided with the Federal Government's announcement yesterday that Australia would consider sending one of its two amphibious command ships to help in the fight against terrorism.

The only other suitable ship, HMAS Kanimbla, is undergoing the final stages of fit-out, making Manoora the only integrated communications and command ship capable of supporting an Australian overseas deployment.

The Manoora will return to Australia almost immediately.

The HMAS Tobruk remains on course for Nauru despite the United Nations refugee agency insisting it will not process the 262 asylum seekers on board when they arrive within a fortnight.

For additional reports from The Age, go to PACIFIC ISLANDS REPORT News/Information Links: Newspapers/The Age.

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