9 Nov 2009

Australian minister heads to Sri Lanka amid asylum seeker talks

8:14 am on 9 November 2009

Australia's Foreign Affairs Minister is to hold talks during a visit to Sri Lanka on Monday as a standoff involving a group of asylum seekers on board an Australian Customs ship enters its fourth week.

The 78 Sri Lankans are refusing to get off the Oceanic Viking because they do not want to be taken to Indonesia.

The minister, Stephen Smith, has ruled out sending the group back to Sri Lanka and will use a day-long visit to Sri Lanka to talk about how to stop people smugglers, the ABC reports.

He said returning the group in advance of a proper assessment of their claims would be in breach of Australia's international obligations and of the refugee convention.

Mr Smith is being accompanied to Sri Lanka by the Government's special envoy to the country, John McCarthy, and the ambassador for people smuggling issues, Peter Woolcott.

They are due to meet the Sri Lankan foreign minister and other government officials.

Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd's approval rating dropped considerably last week as the impasse continues over what to do with hundreds of Australia-bound asylum seekers who remain in limbo.