people smuggling     Sri Lanka’s navy is alleged to be a major player in the island’s people-smuggling operations, helping asylum seekers leave the country in boats bound for Australia. The navy denies the allegations.

Prominent Tamil National Alliance MP Suresh Premachandran said: ”I believe some navy personnel are involved in this smuggling.” Fellow TNA MP and leading Sri Lankan lawyer, M. A. Sumanthiran, claimed the navy’s involvement was common knowledge. ”About one boat in 10 they catch and bring back, and announce it to the country.”

Australia has known of the allegations for several months. The issue was first raised with Foreign Minister Bob Carr in December when he met Tamil representatives.

His office passed the allegations to Minister for Home Affairs Jason Clare for further investigation. ”There is currently no specific evidence that we are aware of to support these claims,” a spokeswoman said.

In a deal announced in December, Australia will give the Sri Lankan navy surveillance and search-and-rescue equipment to help interdict people-smuggling boats. This year, its naval officers will train in Australia in maritime air surveillance, and the two countries will hold joint intelligence training programs.

In 2012, the Sri Lankan navy arrested more than 3000 people trying to leave for Australia. Another 6428 made it across the Indian Ocean. It’s unknown how many people were lost at sea. Sri Lankan navy spokesman Commander Kosala Warnakulasuriya said allegations of naval complicity were baseless. ”I categorically deny these allegations, no Sri Lankan naval personnel are involved in this illegal migration activity,” he said.

He said claims of naval complicity were made to discredit Sri Lanka’s government for political advantage. ”The Sri Lankan navy has stopped more boats than any country.”

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