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Hardcore LTTE among boat load of Lankans arrested in Indonesia?

Sri Lanka yesterday said that hardcore LTTE cadres and their families could be among a boat load of Lankans, now held by the Indonesian government, after being arrested by the Indonesian navy on October 11.

An authoritative official told The Sunday Island that Sri Lankan investigators should be given access to the detainees to establish their true identity. He acknowledged that this could be a touchy issue in view international criticism of Sri Lankan forces over alleged atrocities committed during Eelam War IV.

Responding to our queries, he emphasized the urgent need to establish whether they had left Sri Lanka after the end of war in May through the Bandaranaike International Airport. Had that been the case, there could be persons who had fled northern detention camps with the help of an organized group, he said.

But Indonesian or officials with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees would not be able to gather the required information without direct involvement of Sri Lankan investigators, he pointed out.

The boat which the Indonesian navy seized could have started its journey in some other country, probably Malaysia, one of the major gathering point for illegal immigrants,

he said making the point that the LTTE was definitely involved in this operation though its primary task previously had been gun running.

Welcoming Australia and Indonesia cooperating to thwart human smuggling, another Sri Lankan official said that Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd had gone to the extent of personally requesting Indonesian leader Susilo Bamban Yudhoyono to stop the boat carrying illegal immigrants in Indonesian waters.

According to him, this was part of Australia’s security strategy to stop boats carrying illegal immigrants reaching their waters. This was somewhat similar to the US strategy in fighting terrorism away from her shores.

Responding to queries, he said that had the October 11 detection taken place in Australian waters as had happened on previous occasions, Australia would have been compelled to hold the sneak entrants at a detention facility in Australia.

Australia is funding a new immigration detention centre in Sumatra (Indonesia) to hold

Australia-bound illicit immigrants.

A Sri Lankan naval source said that Australia is most anxious to prevent boat people seeking entry to Australia from reaching her waters. He speculated that if the 255 Sri Lankans, now held onboard the seized vessel, refused to return to Sri Lanka voluntarily, they could end up at the facility at Sumatra as Australia had refused to compromise on this issue.

Indonesia and Malaysia are increasingly used by people smugglers ferrying illicit immigrants into Australia. Australia had deployed substantial resources to fight them as this has become a contentious political issue with the Opposition in that country accused the incumbent government of encouraging illegal immigrants by adopting a `soft’ liberal policy.

Sri Lanka was cooperating fully with Australian efforts to curb smuggling of Lankans seeking illegal entry there.

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