Australian minister to visit Sri Lanka amid boat dispute

COLOMBO, July 6, 2014 (AFP) – Australia’s immigration minister will visit Colombo this week for talks on illegal immigration following international concern at his country’s handling of Sri Lankan asylum-seekers, it was announced Sunday. The US and European Union member states have said rights abuses against the ethnic Tamil minority continued even after the war’s end in 2009. Scott Morrison is due to meet top officials from President Mahinda Rajapakse’s government when he arrives Wednesday, an official told AFP.

“He (Morrison) will of course talk about illegal immigration and will also participate in a ceremony to formally hand over a patrol boat that Australia gifted us last year,” said foreign ministry spokesman Satya Rodrigo.

It was expected to be used to patrol Sri Lankan waters and halt boats leaving the country with asylum-seekers bound for Australia.

Sri Lanka has already taken charge of a boat donated by Australia last year for use against people-smuggling.

Both Sri Lankan and Australian authorities have declined to comment on the case of some 200 Sri Lankan asylum-seekers in two boats who were reportedly intercepted at sea by the Australian navy in Australian waters in recent weeks.

Australian media has