UAE vows to keep helping shipwrecked Sri Lankans

The United Arab Emirates vowed on Friday to keep up its assistance to 19 Sri Lankans seeking refugee status in a third country since they arrived after a shipwreck nearly six months ago.

They are part of a group of 45 Sri Lankans -- including former rebels -- rescued last October when their boat sank off Dubai and who later asked the UNHCR to be classified as refugees.

The UN High Commissioner for Refugees did not grant the status to some members of the group, but it was able to relocate 20 in a third country, leaving 19 in the UAE, foreign ministry official Said al-Shamsi said.

"The UNHCR is trying to find a country that will accept these 19 people, or to repatriate them," Shamsi said, adding that the UAE government "will continue to help them for as long as they are on our territory."

Sri Lanka went through a lengthy ethnic conflict between 1972 and 2009, pitting the minority Tamil Hindus against the Sinhalese Buddhist majority. At least 100,000 people were killed.

The UN Human Rights Council condemned Sri Lanka last month for failing to investigate alleged war crimes in the final battle against Tamil Tiger separatists.

Rights groups say up to 40,000 civilians were killed in the final months of fighting in 2009, a charge Colombo denies.