Australia offers Sri Lanka aid to stem boatpeople

Australian Foreign Minister Bob Carr announced on Saturday millions of dollars in aid to boost educational opportunities in Sri Lanka, hoping it will help stem the flow of illegal immigrants from the island.

Carr told reporters in Colombo that US$36 million will be spent over four years to help some four million primary and secondary school children in Sri Lanka and contribute to a "stable society with economic growth".

"We've got an interest in a stable Sri Lanka... with economic growth," he said, adding that improving educational opportunities in Sri Lanka was in Australia's interest in order to tackle problems of people smuggling and human trafficking.

Carr is on a three-day visit for talks with Sri Lankan leaders on measures to deal with the increased flow of illegal boatpeople attempting to seek asylum in Australia.

Sri Lanka's defence ministry announced on Friday that nearly 3,000 of the country's nationals had been stopped from illegally journeying by boat to Australia during the current year.

Australia has sent more than 500 Sri Lankans back to Colombo since August.

The country is struggling to deal with a record number of asylum-seekers, many from Sri Lanka, Iran and Iraq, who are paying people-smugglers to take them on the perilous journey, often on rickety, wooden fishing vessels.

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