Sri Lanka arrests 44 people heading to Australia

Colombo, April 19 (IANS) Sri Lankan police Friday arrested 44 people who were preparing to leave for Australia by boat, a police official said.

Three vans transporting the people were checked on suspicion in the southern town of Aluthgama. Among those found in the van were five women and four children, Xinhua cited the police official as saying.

The arrested people were residents of the war-affected northern region.

On Thursday, the Sri Lankan navy said it had intercepted a boat with 61 people illegally bound for Australia.

The boat was intercepted by a navy patrol craft off the eastern town of Batticaloa. Among those arrested were 60 Tamils, the navy said.

The Australian government said earlier this week that it had returned more than 1,000 Sri Lankans since August last year.

“Returning this group to Sri Lanka sends the powerful message that people who pay smugglers are throwing their money away and risking their lives in the process,” Australian Minister for Immigration and Citizenship Brendan O’Connor said.

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