Colombo, September 21: The Foreign Ministers of Sri Lanka and Australia met on the eve of the 76th Session of the United Nations General Assembly in New York. At the meeting the Australian Foreign Minister Marise Payne sought from her Sri Lankan counterpart, Prof.G.L.Peiris, intelligence cooperation.

Though the details of this request were not given in the Sri Lankan government’s communique issued on Tuesday, cooperation is likely to be on the long-standing human trafficking problem as well as the more recent terrorist problem, sources said.

Recently, in neighboring New Zealand, one Samsudeen, a young Sri Lankan with suspected ISIS links, had slashed seven Australians with a knife at a shopping mall in Auckland. He was shot dead by police who had been trailing him. In comparison with New Zealand, Australia has a large Sri Lankan expatriate population, hence a greater need for intelligence.    

As for the human smuggling problem, many Sri Lankan Tamils had been trying to go to Australia by boat but only to get detained there for illegal entry. Australia had admitted Lankan Tamils from war-torn North and East of the island, on humanitarian grounds and legally.    

As human smuggling was had become a problem, in 2013, Australia gifted two retired Australian Bay Class patrol boats to assist Sri Lanka’s efforts in combatting people smuggling. The patrol boats were agile and with a range, speed and boarding capability that meant they would be well-suited to enhancing the Sri Lankan Navy’s efforts to disrupt people smuggling ventures. Australia was providing training with the patrol boats, which will operate alongside the Sri Lankan Navy’s existing capability to intercept people smuggling efforts originating in Sri Lankan waters.

With the result only 14 boats had travelled directly from Sri Lanka to Australia in 2013 compared to 120 boats in 2012. There were at least 12 on-water interceptions by the Sri Lankan Navy in 2013.

However, the problem persisted and was discussed at the Sixth Meeting of Australia-Sri Lanka Joint Working Group(JWG) on Counter People Smuggling and other Transnational Crime in October 2019, held in Canberra.

The then Sri Lankan Defense Secretary Gen. Shantha Kottegoda (Rtd.) said that Sri Lanka considers the JWG as an important platform where both parties have been able to resolve many issues of concern with regard to people smuggling and transnational crimes and continues to do so.

Kottegoda stated that Sri Lanka and Australia had come a long way and commended the Government of Australia for the assistance extended to Sri Lanka in many areas inclusive of legislative and law enforcement, intelligence gathering, vessel monitoring, sharing of information in the concerned areas. He further stressed that while continuing the discussion on strengthening the relationship with regard to countering people smuggling, it is time to consider a stronger security framework to counter terrorism and prevent violent extremism. He further suggested that intelligence cooperation and information sharing are priority areas to advance common security objectives providing transparency and building confidence in the Indian Ocean.

Lanka Seeks Understanding on Ethnic Issue

At the meeting with Marise Payne, Lankan Minister G.L.Peiris referred to the experience of Australia in vocational education and expressed that Sri Lanka is very much interested in gaining assistance in this area. Peiris apprised Minister Payne that much headway has been made in the economic development of the Northern and Eastern provinces of the country as well as with reconciliation. He also elaborated on developments related to the Office of Missing Persons, Office for Reparations and the Office of National Unity and Reconciliation (ONUR) as well as the appointment of a Commission headed by a sitting judge of the Supreme Court to take stock of the current situation and to identify ways and means of taking the process forward.

Peiris stated that there is a need to allow local institutions the space and opportunity to carry out their mandates and the establishment of an ad-hoc external mechanism that overrides this work is unnecessary and detrimental. It is premature and inappropriate to have a mechanism selectively targeting Sri Lanka and goes against the very principles of the UN Charter, he pointed out.



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