The Sri Lankan government says it has identified up to three former Tamil Tigers seeking asylum in Australia on a boat intercepted after a personal request from Australian Premier Kevin Rudd to Indonesia's President.
In allegations that will further complicate the processing of the 255 Tamils on a boat moored at the Indonesian port of Merak, Colombo's high commissioner to Australia, Senaka Walgampaya, said Sri Lankan embassy officials in Jakarta had identified the individuals.
"Of (the Oceanic Viking) lot we have no specific knowledge," Mr Walgampaya told The Australian. "But of those in the boat of Merak, I think open-source photographs have identified ex-Tamil Tigers."
Sri Lankan government officials, speaking on condition of anonymity, have confirmed the high commissioner's remarks. But they emphasise that a definitive identification is impossible until the passengers agree to leave the boat.
A spokeswoman for Foreign Minister Stephen Smith declined to comment on the Sri Lankan claims. However, senior government sources have told The Australian that Canberra is aware of the Tamil Tiger suspicions.
And officals have been at pains to emphasise that not all Tamils with links to the LTTE represent a threat to the Australian community. In October, a boat carrying 255 Tamil asylum-seekers to Australia was stopped by the Indonesian navy. The interception followed a phone call from the Prime Minister to Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono.
The government was concerned that a successful venture of that size could have spurred a wave of boats with similar passenger loads. The boat and its passengers were taken to Merak, where it has remained ever since. The passengers have refused to get off, insisting they receive the same generous treatment as the Tamils who were rescued by the Customs vessel Oceanic Viking, the first of whom arrived in Australia on Sunday after being confirmed as refugees.
Refugee advocates have expressed alarm at conditions on the boat in Merak and the fate of the handful of Tamils who have left it. Ian Rintoul, who has been in regular contact with the Tamils, said about 247 people remained on the boat. "The main thing is the lack of medical care," Mr Rintoul said. "That and the lack of certainty and what their future will be."
Mr Rintoul dismissed Colombo's claims about ex-cadres aboard the boat. "That's exactly what you could expect from the Sri Lankan government," he said.
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