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Sri Lankan police arrest 44 people heading to Australia

Colombo, April 19 (Xinhua-ANI): Sri Lankan police on Friday arrested 44 people who were preparing to leave for Australia by boat.

A police officer said that three vans transporting them to a location were checked on suspicion in the southern town of Aluthgama.

Among those found in the van were 5 women and 4 children, the police official said adding that they are residents of the war- affected north.

On Thursday the Sri Lankan navy said it had also intercepted a boat with 61 people illegally bound for Australia.

The boat was intercepted by a navy patrol craft off the eastern town of Batticaloa. Among those arrested were 60 minority Tamils, the navy said.

The Australian government said this week it had returned more than 1,000 Sri Lankan irregular maritime arrivals since August 13 last year.

“Returning this group to Sri Lanka sends the powerful message that people who pay smugglers are throwing their money away and risking their lives in the process,” Australian Minister for Immigration and Citizenship Brendan O’Connor said. (Xinhua-ANI)