A spokesman for Australian Prime Minister John Howard said Saturday that the prime minister understood Indonesia's decision to recall its ambassador from Canberra, saying the Australian government was not questioning Indonesia's sovereignty over Papua province.
Indonesia on Friday decided to summon its ambassador after the Australian government decided to grant temporary visas to a group of asylum seekers from Indonesia's troubled province, in which separatist movement has been active.
The group of Indonesian asylum seekers sailed from Papua to Australia in January in order to escape alleged genocide by the Indonesian police.
Australian Ambassador Bill Farmer in Jakarta has been summoned to Indonesia's foreign ministry for a formal diplomatic protest.
A reported telephone call between Howard and Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono last Thursday did not happen, the spokesman said, adding that the two leaders only had a telephone talk weeks ago about the issue.
"Mr Howard believes the reaction of the Indonesian government was understandable," he said, adding "when President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono's telephoned some weeks ago Mr Howard told him the status of the 43 West Papuans would be determined according to Australian law."
Howard and the Australian federal government was not questioning Indonesia's sovereignty over Papua and "Australia strongly supports Indonesian sovereignty over West Papua," he noted.