Page last updated at 16:23 GMT, Monday, 8 June 2009 17:23 UK

S Lanka turns away Tamil aid ship

By Charles Haviland
BBC News, Colombo

Captain Ali at sea off the Sri Lankan coastline
The Captain Ali was carrying food and medicine from Tamils in Europe

Sri Lanka has turned away a ship which came from Europe carrying aid for Tamil civilians displaced in the final months of the civil war, officials say.

Late last week the Sri Lankan navy intercepted the vessel, which was sent by Tamil expatriate groups.

But a navy spokesman told the BBC that the vessel, the Captain Ali, had been ordered to clear Sri Lankan waters.

A UK-based spokesman for the group which sent the ship, described the move as "disheartening".

The navy spokesman said the vessel had been ordered to clear Sri Lankan territorial waters and not come to Colombo harbour or unload anything.

Asked whether this was not a waste of the hundreds of tonnes of food and medical aid on board, the navy spokesman said he could not comment as the decision had been made by the defence ministry.

No defence official was immediately available for comment.

The spokesman for the Tamil expatriate group said the government could have used the ship to engage with the Tamil diaspora as a move towards reconciliation.

He said the emergency aid on board was desperately needed by refugees in the north.

The defence ministry here earlier described the Captain Ali as a Tamil Tiger vessel, but the defence secretary said on Sunday that the ship "did not have any dangerous intentions".

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