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Bid to Smuggle 264 Asians to Canada Foiled

From Times Wire Services

Authorities foiled a plan Saturday to smuggle 264 Asians, mostly members of the Tamil minority in Sri Lanka, to Canada aboard a ship, a police spokesman said.

Police were looking for a 38-year-old Tamil suspected of organizing the trip, according to spokesman Bernd Metterhausen.

The suspect, who was not identified, fled on foot as police closed in on his rented car. He is believed to have arranged a similar passage of Tamils to Canada nearly two years ago, Metterhausen told reporters.

West Germany is host to about 30,000 Tamil refugees who have fled civil strife in Sri Lanka, where Tamil rebels are fighting for a separate nation.

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Police discovered the plan shortly before the Asians were supposed to board a ship in Hamburg’s harbor early Saturday. They were found in an abandoned hotel in Hittfeld near the northern port.

Line of Vehicles

A patrol of plainclothes officers noticed a suspicious-looking column of two limousines and a truck driving through Hamburg, the police spokesman said. They followed the convoy and discovered the group in the abandoned building.

“The building was full to the roof with asylum seekers,” Metterhausen said.

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Authorities suspected the Tamil organizer of pocketing about $2,900 for each refugee. Police said they found checks and money in the organizer’s rented car.

The group consisted of 257 Tamils, five Indians and two Bengalis, he said.

Documents in the three vehicles revealed that the group was supposed to board the 300-ton Lupa, a West German-registered ship.

Police searched the ship and arrested its owner and captain, identified as Uwe Petersen. He was being questioned but denied any role in the plan, police said.

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Metterhausen said police had received tips in recent weeks that there were plans to smuggle a large number of Tamils to Canada. Police had noticed a larger than usual presence of Tamils in Hamburg in recent days, he said. In August, 1986, 155 Tamils were taken by ship from West Germany and abandoned in lifeboats off the coast of Newfoundland.

They were rescued by Canadian officials and permitted to stay.

The refugees discovered Saturday were placed under care of the Red Cross, Metterhausen said.

They will be sent back to the towns where they applied for asylum, he said.

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