Sri Lanka asylum-seekers threaten to torch boat

BANTEN, October 14, 2009 (AFP) – More than 250 Sri Lankans seeking asylum in Australia have threatened to set fire to their boat if they are forced to disembark in Indonesia, an official said Wednesday. The Indonesian navy intercepted the boat with 255 men, women and children on board in the Sunda Strait and towed it to the West Java port of Banten on Tuesday, Banten provincial navy chief S. Irawan said.

“While their boat was being towed to the port, they protested. Some of them jumped into the sea and some of them threatened to set the boat on fire,” Irawan said.

“They thought they would be deported once they reached the shore.”

One of the migrants, who gave his name as Alex, told AFP the group wanted political asylum in Australia.

“We don’t want to be deported to Sri Lanka. Our government suspects that we’re separatists from LTTE (Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam) but we’re not,” he said.

They had strung a sign on the wooden boat saying: “We are Sri Lankan civilians. Please save our lives.”

Navy spokesman Iskandar Sitompul said the migrants had flown from Sri Lanka to Malaysia in small groups starting in July, and had sheltered in the jungle for over two months