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Australia in Sri Lanka Talks to Curb People Smuggling, Carr Says

Dec. 17 (Bloomberg) -- Australia will boost financial aid and provide equipment to the Sri Lankan government to counter a surge in people smuggling from the Asian nation, Foreign Minister Bob Carr said.

Carr’s four-point plan, announced today in Colombo, will see Australia provide Sri Lanka’s navy and intelligence service with extra surveillance and electronic equipment, training, and A$45 million ($47 million) in aid over five years to reduce poverty, Carr said in an e-mailed statement. Australia will also spend A$700,000 in advertisements to deter potential asylum seekers, he said.

At least 1,000 asylum seekers, often from war-torn Middle Eastern and South Asian nations, are known to have drowned in the waters between Indonesia and Australia since 2001. The issue has become politically damaging for the government of Prime Minister Julia Gillard, who has been forced to open off-shore processing centers as well as resettling some refugees in Australian cities.

Cooperation between the Sri Lanka and Australian governments has resulted in the disruption of 65 smuggling ventures involving 2,900 people this year, and since August the involuntary return of more than 700 Sri Lankans, Carr said.

Australia shepherded laws through parliament on Aug. 17 to allow refugees to be processed on the South Pacific island nation of Nauru and in Papua New Guinea in a bid to deter asylum seekers from paying Indonesian smugglers to ferry them in overcrowded boats to Australia. Sri Lankan people smugglers often sail directly from the island nation into Australian waters.

To contact the reporter on this story: Jason Scott in Canberra at jscott14@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Peter Hirschberg at phirschberg@bloomberg.net

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