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Cablegate: Sri Lankan Navy Rescues 71 Stranded at Sea; Ltte

VZCZCXRO4534
OO RUEHBI
DE RUEHLM #0222 0641109
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
O 041109Z MAR 08
FM AMEMBASSY COLOMBO
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC IMMEDIATE 7776
INFO RUEHBK/AMEMBASSY BANGKOK PRIORITY 3384
RUEHKA/AMEMBASSY DHAKA PRIORITY 0759
RUEHIL/AMEMBASSY ISLAMABAD PRIORITY 7747
RUEHKT/AMEMBASSY KATHMANDU PRIORITY 5933
RUEHKL/AMEMBASSY KUALA LUMPUR PRIORITY 0345
RUEHLO/AMEMBASSY LONDON PRIORITY 4279
RUEHNE/AMEMBASSY NEW DELHI PRIORITY 1873
RUEHNY/AMEMBASSY OSLO PRIORITY 4283
RUEHGO/AMEMBASSY RANGOON PRIORITY 0972
RUEHKO/AMEMBASSY TOKYO PRIORITY 3379
RUEHCG/AMCONSUL CHENNAI PRIORITY 8362
RUEHBI/AMCONSUL MUMBAI PRIORITY 5841
RUEHON/AMCONSUL TORONTO PRIORITY 0557
RUEHGV/USMISSION GENEVA PRIORITY 2639
RHHMUNA/HQ USPACOM HONOLULU HI PRIORITY
RHEFDIA/DIA WASHINGTON DC PRIORITY
RHEHAAA/NATIONAL SECURITY COUNCIL WASHINGTON DC PRIORITY
RUEHBS/USEU BRUSSELS PRIORITY

UNCLAS COLOMBO 000222

SIPDIS

SENSITIVE
SIPDIS

DEPARTMENT FOR SCA/INS

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: PHUM PREL MOPS CE
SUBJECT: SRI LANKAN NAVY RESCUES 71 STRANDED AT SEA; LTTE
CONNECTION UNLIKELY


1. (U) On March 3, the Sri Lankan Navy rescued 71 Myanmar
and Bangladeshi survivors on a large wooden trawler found
drifting 140 nautical miles off Mullaitivu, on the northeast
coast of Sri Lanka. According to press reports, the vessel
set off on February 9 from Cox's Bazaar, near the
Myanmar-Bangladesh border, and went adrift on February 20
after developing engine trouble. Survivors (50 Myanmar
nationals and 21 Bangladeshi men) said that that the trawler
was sailing toward Thailand and Malaysia. They reported that
at least 20 others (3 Myanmar nationals and 17 Bangladeshis)
perished during the journey and their bodies were thrown
overboard. A group of fishermen radioed authorities on March
2 to alert the Sri Lankan Navy about the presence of a
suspicious trawler. The Navy sent two offshore patrol
vessels (OPVs) to the area, including a medical team, and are
towing the disabled trawler to Trincomalee harbor.
Representatives of the survivors' respective diplomatic
missions will reportedly meet them there. According to Navy
contacts, all the rescued people will then be brought to
Colombo on March 5.

2. (SBU) The Commander of the Sri Lankan Navy told the
Ambassador on March 4 that the Navy had dispatched 4 vessels
to rescue the survivors. The passengers had arrived in
Trincomalee where they were now receiving medical assistance
and clothing. He said that few of the 71 passengers spoke
English, but that several of them told the Navy they had not
eaten in 9 days. The Commander said some of the survivors
said they had come from "refugee camps" near Cox's Bazaar and
were on their way to Thailand and Malaysia. Despite some
suggestions in the Sri Lankan press that the LTTE might have
been involved in some way in this apparent human smuggling,
the Commander said the Sri Lankan Navy had no concrete
evidence of this. He promised to provide more details once a
more thorough de-brief of the passengers had taken place.
The Commander also did not know the registry of the vessel
which was still being towed to Trincomalee.

3. (SBU) COMMENT: Embassy will await further details on a
possible LTTE connection to this incident. However, in the
absence of any evidence linking the distressed trawler to the
Tamil Tigers, we are inclined to concur with the Navy's
assessment that no such link exists. Rather, it appears to
be a simple human smuggling operation which went tragically
awry.
BLAKE

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