US, Canada monitor ship said full of Sri Lankan refugees

WASHINGTON, August 4, 2010 (AFP) – The United States and Canada said Wednesday they are monitoring a ship said to be packed with Tamil refugees bound for Canada as they flee post-war persecution in Sri Lanka. D. M. Jayaratne, Sri Lanka’s prime minister, has urged Western nations to crack down on Tamils living abroad who he said hope to revive the armed struggle that cost the lives of up to 100,000 people between 1972 and May last year.

David Poopalapillai, a spokesman for Canadian Tamils, dismissed what he called mere allegations that the asylum seekers included members of the separatist Tamil Tigers, outlawed as terrorists by both Ottawa and Washington.

Interviewed by AFP, Poopalapillai expressed concern for the health and safety of the Sri Lankan passengers, most of them Tamils, who are packed into what he said is a “very small ship” that is not built for ocean voyages.

Matthew Chandler, a spokesman for the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), told AFP: “We are aware of the vessel, and are monitoring its progress. Should an emergency arise, the United States will respond appropriately.”

But he added: “We do not know definitively how many passengers are currently aboard, nor can we co