Sixteen Sri Lankans and four Indonesians have been detained in East Timor over a plot to illegally sail to Australia, authorities say.
The men were arrested in Betano village, on East Timor's south coast, while preparing to board an Indonesian fishing boat.
Officials said the men had admitted they were planning to travel to Australia.
"Some of them say they (were trying to) enter Australia to look for jobs," said the deputy director of East Timor's immigration department, Boavida Ribeiro.
The Sri Lankans were believed to have entered East Timor overland from Indonesia, while the Indonesians sailed the boat from Betun port, in West Timor, Ribeiro said.
"It was a small boat (and) in poor condition," he said.
Authorities in East Timor say they have not caught many people trying to travel to Australia illegally.
"(The last time) was in 2007 when we (detained) five people," Ribeiro said.
The men are being held in Dili's police watch-house.
Authorities are unsure at this stage if the men are part of a wider people smuggling or trafficking operation.
The immigration department expects an investigation will be complete by the end of this week.
The International Office for Migration in East Timor said they have offered assistance to the group. (nz.news)