70 Sri Lankan boat people rescued by navy

Colombo, July 24 (IANS) Seventy Sri Lankans attempting to illegally migrate to Australia were rescued by the intervention of the navy here Wednesday, an official said.

The people attempting to illegally migrate were rescued off a fishing vessel by merchant ships in international waters after the Sri Lankan navy sent out messages, Xinhua quoted navy spokesman Kosala Warnakulasuriya as saying.

"We believe that the fishing vessel left the southern seaport of Galle earlier this week. Since it had already crossed over into international waters it was difficult for us to retrieve it. Therefore we sent out messages to merchant ships plying the route to rescue the people," he said.

Once the Sri Lankans were picked up, they were brought to the maritime boundary line that separates international and Sri Lankan waters where they were handed over to the navy.

Warnakulasuriya said investigations into the people smugglers involved in the incident were continuing.

Despite the end of a three decade war in 2009, the number of asylum seekers from Sri Lanka has increased, pushing the Australian government to take tough measures to prevent them from reaching that country.

Nearly 1,300 Sri Lankans have been returned by the Australian government after they attempted to illegally migrant via boat.

At least another 1,500 have been arrested by the navy while attempting to leave Sri Lanka by boat.

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