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* Australian PM says Sri Lanka at peace and justifies returning Tamil asylum seekers back
Thu, Jul 3, 2014, 11:55 am SL Time, ColomboPage News Desk, Sri Lanka.

July 03, Colombo: The Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbot Thursday rejected the international criticism of its handling of Tamil asylum seekers and justified sending them back to Sri Lanka as the country is now at peace.

Speaking to Australia's 3AW Mornings, Mr. Abbott said it was no secret that Australia was turning back boats on the high seas but Australia always acted legally and morally at sea.

When he was asked whether the Australian government was sending asylum seekers back to the country they fled from, Mr. Abbott said Sri Lanka may not be an ideal society but it is at peace after the war.

''But I want to make this observation, Sri Lanka is not everyone's idea of the ideal society but it is at peace . . . a horrific civil war has ended. I believe that there has been a lot of progress when it comes to human rights and the rule of law in Sri Lanka.''

"We said before the election that one of the policy options that we reserve the right to use where it's safe to do so, is turning boats around," Mr. Abbott said.

He stressed that "the absolute priority of this government is to stop the boats." "We believe we are at all times acting within our international obligations."

."And it's no secret that some boats have been turned around," the PM said.

Australian media reported that 50 Sri Lankan asylum seekers on board one boat were asked just four basic questions by immigration officials via a teleconference, as part of a screening process.

Another boat with 152 Sri Lankan asylum seekers including 32 women, and 37 children has not been contactable since the weekend, indicating it may have been intercepted by the Australian Navy and handed over to the Sri Lankan Navy, according to Australian media reports.

It is understood the Tamil asylum seekers are likely to be handed over to the Sri Lankan navy.

However, the Australian government has refused to confirm the media reports that the asylum seekers have been handed over to Sri Lankan authorities.

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