Sri Lanka rescues 71 Burmese and Bangladeshi nationals

Mar 4, 2008 (AP), The Sri Lankan navy said it rescued 71 Burmese and Bangladeshi citizens on board a vessel found drifting in the Indian Ocean on Monday after its engine failed.

Twenty other people died from a lack of water and food as the boat drifted for 12 days, said navy spokesman Cmdr. D.K.P. Dassanayake, citing survivors’ accounts.

The vessel was about 170 miles from the eastern coast when the navy found it after being tipped off by fishermen, Dassanayake said.

The survivors ‚ 50 Burmese nationals and 21 Bangladeshis ‚ were treated by navy medical teams and are out of danger, he said.

Survivors said the 50-foot vessel left Burma on 9 February with 91 people aboard and began drifting after it developed engine trouble on 20 February, Dassanayake said.

He said the navy suspects the vessel could be linked to a human smuggling group because an initial investigation showed the passengers were heading for Malaysia or Thailand seeking employment.

Sri Lanka’s navy conducts routine patrols off the country’s eastern coast to prevent separatist Tamil rebels from smuggling in weapons and explosives to fight government forces.

The rebels have fought since 1983 to create an independent homeland for Sri Lanka’s Tamil minority after decades of discrimination by the Sinhalese majority. More than 70,000 people have been killed in the conflict.

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