‘Boats carrying asylum seekers did not originate here’
Wants possible link between three groups detained in Indonesia and Australia probed

The government yesterday said that the Tamil Diaspora was making a fresh attempt to undermine Sri Lanka by organising large scale human smuggling operations targeting developed countries, particularly Australia and Canada.

Ministerial sources told The Island that this was being done in support of their strategy to emphasise that Tamil speaking people were not safe in Sri Lanka though the LTTE had been militarily crushed. LTTE front organisations had already claimed that people were fleeing the country, especially Army-run detention camps in northern Sri Lanka fearing for their lives.

An authoritative military official told The Island that none of the three vessels carrying Sri Lankan Tamils, which had been intercepted by the Canadians and Indonesians on high seas during the past fortnight, originated in Sri Lanka. He asserted that people now in Indonesian custody had boarded vessels either in Malaysia or Indonesia. Investigators had to establish where the rusty-ocean-going vessel ‘Ocean Lady’, which was intercepted by the Canadians off Vancouver Island, picked up the human cargo.

Responding to our queries, he emphasised that the majority of 331 persons held by the Indonesians and 78 in Canadian custody could have left Sri Lanka months if not years ago.

A spokesperson for the Foreign Ministry told The Island on Thursday (October 22) that the Sri Lankan missions in Indonesia and Canada had not been given direct access to the detainees. The official emphasised that Sri Lankan authorities had to be given access to them eventually at least to establish their nationality and possible involvement with the LTTE. Sources said that people detained in Indonesia had said that they would not have anything to do with the Sri Lankan mission. An intelligence official said that perhaps the most important aspect of the investigation was to find out whether the groups intercepted by the Indonesians and Canadians knew each other or were involved with each other in any other way.

Sri Lankan officials said that the Tamil Diaspora was trying to involve the UN as part of their strategy to increase pressure on Sri Lanka. They said that officials of the U.N. high commissioner for refugees had been allowed to visit 76 Tamils.

Sources said that nothing could be as impractical as an attempt to determine whether detainees had any ties with the LTTE.

The situation had been further complicated by Australia’s efforts to prevent Sri Lankans reaching Down Under. Sources said that an Australian intelligence operation directed against asylum seekers could not have been successful without Australia and Indonesia cooperating on this particular issue.

Australia recently ruled out the possibility of accepting any of the asylum seekers while reaching an understanding with Indonesia to have 78 asylum seekers land at an Indonesian port. Sri Lankan sources pointed out that Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd meeting with Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono in Jakarta a few days ago revealed Australia’s determination to keep detainees away.

Diplomatic sources said that the Australian government was under Opposition fire over its handling of the issue of asylum seekers. Sources said that the government had been accused of encouraging asylum seekers by adopting a liberal approach.

Referring to a recent statement attributed to Malaysian Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak that if the Sri Lankan government assured Tamils that they could integrate in the country’s development, the possibility of their becoming boat people would be reduced, sources said that nothing could be misleading than this statement.


Another boatload intercepted

The Australian Navy on Thursday (October 23) intercepted a boatload of Sri Lankan Tamils in Australian waters. Sri Lankan officials said that Australia would have to take tougher action to discourage bogus asylum seekers. They said that the boat carrying 32 persons had managed to get within 13km of Christmas Island though Australia thwarted two recent attempts with Indonesia’s help.

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