Controversy surrounds Australia s decision to keep Sri Lanka out of negotiations over Sri Lankan Tamils now held in Indonesia and Australia.
Australia recently reached a bilateral agreement with Indonesia to confine the Sri Lankans in Indonesia at Australia s expense. Well informed sources told The Island that Australia had so far not sought Sri Lanka s advice in that regard, though a section of the Australian Opposition had taken a different position.
Liberal Party MP Tony Abbott early this week urged the Australian government to initiate a dialogue with Sri Lanka regarding Sri Lankan Tamils now held in Indonesia while trying to reach Australia.
The Opposition frontliner told SBS Television s Dateline programme on Tuesday (Oct 27) that Australia should discuss this issue with Sri Lanka instead of dealing with Indonesia.
A top representative of Australia-based Tamil Rehabilitation Organisation (TRO) told the programme that people fleeing Sri Lanka should be given political asylum.
Over the past two weeks, Indonesia has taken 334 Sri Lankans into custody and Australia has detained 32. Sri Lankan government sources said that they had been detained in three separate operations engineered by the Australians.
Interestingly, a fourth vessel, subsequently identified as Ocean Lady carrying 76 Sri Lankan Tamils, too, is believed to have been intercepted by Canadians after being alerted by Australia.
Responding to our queries, sources said that had Sri Lanka had received advance intelligence on Ocean Lady , the vessel could have been intercepted. Sources said the Indians could not have been unaware of the vessel leaving the north-western port of Mundra particularly because of heightened security following the sea-borne raid on Mumbai last year. Sources said that all four sea movements had been coordinated by the Tamil Diaspora.
Sources said that Sri Lanka had not been given access to Sri Lankans being held in Indonesia, Australia and Canada though there was very clear evidence that the LTTE and its front men were involved in the organised human smuggling operation.
Sources said that the Ocean Lady formerly known as Princess Easwary, had been one of the few ships used to move arms, ammunition and equipment to floating warehouses operated by the LTTE on the high seas. Sources said that had Sri Lanka been given access to the crew, more information regarding the LTTE arms procurement ring could have been elicited.
Sources said that the Maldives a few years ago had set a sterling example by promptly giving access to Sri Lanka to interrogate a group of LTTE terrorists captured by the Maldivian Coast Guard, thereby facilitating SLN operations against LTTE floating warehouses.
It was unfortunate that some countries were reluctant to share information regarding human smuggling operations though they publicly called for joint action to fight terrorism, narcotics and clandestine ship movements, sources said.
Referring to an agreement reached between Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd and Indonesian President Bambang Susilo Yudhoyono in Jakarta recently, sources said that they had decided on the fate of the detained group even without consulting Sri Lanka. Sources also pointed out that of the 334 Sri Lankan detainees, 78 were held onboard Australia Customs Patrol vessel Oceanic Viking now moored off Indonesia Bintan Island near Singapore.
Sources said the Australia-Indonesia agreement had not been well received by some Indonesian officials.