Australian, Sri Lanka agree legal co-operation on human smuggling

Colombo  - Australia and Sri Lanka on Monday entered into an co-operation agreement to stem the smuggling of Sri Lankans into Australia.

The agreement was reached by the visiting Australian Foreign Minister Stephen Smith and his Sri Lankan counterpart Rohitha Bogollagama in Colombo, where they discussed the increasing number of undocumented immigrants trying to reach Australia.

"Our aim is to prevent criminal syndicates smuggling people," Smith told a joint news conference Monday evening before ending his one-day visit.

The two countries agreed on sharing information, prosecuting persons involved in human smuggling and taking action to prevent human smuggling, Bogollagama said.

Smith said also called for regional co-operation including the support of Indonesia, where at least 255 Sri Lankan migrants have been detained.

The visiting minister, who is accompanied by Australia's newly appointed special representative to Sri Lanka, John McCarthy, was due to meet President Mahinda Rajapaksa as well.

The visit comes amid a stand-off by 78 Sri Lankans who are refusing to get off an Australian Customs ship due to fears that they may be sent back to Indonesia.

Evidence has emerged that some of migrants left the former war- torn eastern coast where Tamil rebels and Sri Lankan security forces had until May fought a civil war.

The undocumented migrants say they do not want to return home, fearing that minority Tamils would be harassed despite the end of the civil war.(dpa)