Feb 23, Colombo: Sri Lanka's new Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe has claimed that the Australian government's silence on Sri Lanka's alleged human rights abuses was the price it paid to secure cooperation of the previous Rajapaksa government on stopping asylum-seeker boats.
In an exclusive interview with The Australian, the Sri Lankan PM has said his Australian counterpart Tony Abbot's close relationship with the Rajapaksas was "a mystery" to Sri Lankans, and that Australia's new Immigration Minister, Peter Dutton, would be unlikely to get the warm welcome received under the previous government.
Australia cooperated with the previous Sri Lankan government to stop the people smuggling operations taking asylum seekers, mainly Tamils from the North and East, to its shores.
Australian government provided around $2 million in materiel support for the Sri Lanka Navy and gifted two Bay-class patrol boats to the navy to intercept asylum-seeker boats before they leave Sri Lankan waters.
Mr. Wickremasinghe has confirmed to The Australian that "people connected to the previous government" have been involved in people-smuggling operations.
"It was being done by people with Rajapaksa connections, but once this deal was done between Australia and the Rajapaksa government, where you looked the other way (on human rights abuses), then secretary of defence got the navy to patrol," he told The Australian.
"You could not have got anyone out of this country without someone in the security system looking the other way, the police or the navy," Sri Lankan PM has said.
The Prime Minister however, has said that his government would continue to crack down on asylum seekers leaving the island as it is a major issue for Australia.
"I am not against the Australian government, but I think you must learn from your experiences. Some other countries must also that fully backed the Rajapaksa regime. When human rights were being trampled, and democracy was at bay, these countries were silent. That is an issue for Sri Lanka," Mr. Wickremasinghe has said.
Australia has been accused of refusing to speak out on alleged war crimes committed in the last months of Sri Lanka's 26-year civil war with Tamil separatists in which as many as 40,000 civilians were killed, and on subsequent allegations of human rights abuses, because it needed the Sri Lankan government's support to stop the flow of boats.
Australian human rights activists have criticized Australia's close cooperation with Sri Lanka to prevent illegal migration of asylum seekers as the Australian government's policy is riddled with human rights risks and suggested to immediately stop the cooperation.
Despite Sri Lanka's poor human rights record Australia makes no comprehensive attempt to vet the human rights record of the individuals or units with which it cooperates on border security, rights activists charged.
The United nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) last year expressed deep concern after Australia announced that it has returned 41 asylum-seekers to Sri Lanka after intercepting them at sea. Australia dismissed the concerns expressed by the UNHCR on Australia's policy of turning back the illegal migrants without considering their cases.
While some 40 countries, mainly European and other western countries co-sponsored a resolution that called the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights to initiate a comprehensive independent international investigation into alleged human rights violations committed by the both sides of Sri Lanka's conflict, Australia said it does not believe the resolution is the best way forward to achieve reconciliation.