Sri Lankan police arrest 45 people heading to Australia
Colombo, March 13 : The Sri Lankan police on Wednesday arrested 45 asylum seekers preparing to leave for Australia by boat illegally.
Of those arrested are 43 minority Tamils and 2 Singhalese nationals, the police said in the north western town of Marawila said.
The police said that the Tamils are all residents of the northern town of Jaffna which was affected by the 30 year war between Tamil Tiger rebels and the Sri Lankan army.
The police found food, mobile telephones and clothes in the possession of the asylum seekers who were preparing for the journey to Australia.
Last year the Sri Lankan navy prevented over 3,000 asylum seekers sailing to Australia.
Under a plan announced by the Australian Foreign Ministry, Australia is to provide Sri Lanka with additional surveillance and electronic equipment to expand the island's capacity to target smuggling operations and better identify vessel departure times and locations.
A high level Australian delegation was in Sri Lanka last year to look at ways to curb boat people reaching Australia to seek asylum.
The delegation had talks with the navy commander as well as the Ministry of Defence and other officials in Sri Lanka.
Peter Vardos, Deputy Secretary of the Department of Immigration and Citizenship, said that Australia is working with Sri Lanka at various levels on the human smuggling issue.
He said that both countries have also achieved progress on a " returns agreement" which looks at deporting illegal asylum seekers who reach Australia.
The Australian government began returning Sri Lankans last August as part of its suite of measures to stem boat arrivals to Australia.
Hundreds of Sri Lankan boat people had managed to reach Australia to seek asylum over the years, mostly during the war between the Tamil Tigers and the army.