Feb 01 (Australian) THE surge in asylum-seeker boats to Australia may have been quietly sanctioned at senior levels of the Sri Lankan government as a political payback for Australia's attempts to make Colombo answer for alleged atrocities committed during its civil war.
The theory has been discussed by Gillard government officials.
It follows a widely asserted belief within the Australian government that a powerful Sri Lankan government official may be "complicit" in the people-smuggling trade and has facilitated the passage of dozens of boats to Australia during the past 10 months.
The Australian yesterday revealed that the official is close to President Mahinda Rajapaksa.
The Gillard government has chosen not to confront the official, fearing that a confrontation could cause the official to step up his alleged people-smuggling activities and further undermine what has otherwise been good co-operation with members of the Sri Lankan government on people-smuggling.
Sri Lanka's consul general in Australia, Bandula Jayasekara, yesterday described the claims against the official as a "bad dream" and a "piece of journalistic rubbish".
A spokesman for Foreign Minister Bob Carr said there was "no evidence" to support the allegation the official, whom The Weekend Australian has chosen not to name, was complicit in smuggling.
That position was echoed by a government official who, on condition of anonymity, told The Weekend Australian they were unaware of a "smoking gun" that proved the case against the person.
However, the belief inside government is that it would be impossible for so many boats to leave Sri Lanka in such a relatively short period of time without the assistance of the man.
Australia was surprised last year when Sri Lanka became the largest source of asylum-seekers; 122 came despite the flow from Sri Lanka stopping shortly after the end of the 2009 civil war.
Boatloads of Sri Lankans began to arrive in large numbers around the same time that Australia co-sponsored a UN Human Rights Council Resolution calling on Sri Lanka to address alleged violations of international law during the country's 20 year civil war, which ended in 2009 .
Some senior government officials do not believe this timing was a coincidence and that the Sri Lankan official helped to send boats
to Australia after the UN vote. However others disagree, believing the official had probably been motivated by money rather than by a desire for revenge.
The UN resolution adopted in March called on the government of Sri Lanka to take "credible" steps to ensure accountability for alleged serious violations committed during the final stages of the country's civil war.
The 47-member UN Human Rights Council called on the government to take "all necessary additional steps to fulfil its relevant legal obligations and commitment to initiate credible and independent actions to ensure justice, equity, accountability and reconciliation for all Sri Lankans".
The Sri Lankan government has consistently denied allegations it committed any human rights violations during the war.
The claims drew a scathing response from Mr Jayasekara.
"It is very regrettable to see that you have taken great pains to tarnish the image of my country whilst seated thousands of miles away without knowing the trouble undertaken by the government and Defence authorities of Sri Lanka to stop the people smuggling," he said.