03/23/2012 10:52 EDT | Updated 05/23/2012 05:12 EDT

Harper announces anti-smuggling support for Thailand

Prime Minister Stephen Harper announced support for projects to combat human smuggling in Thailand on Saturday, saying the crackdown would protect Canadians and keep the Southeast Asian country from becoming a trafficking pipeline.

Harper made the announcement during a stop in Bangkok, calling Thailand an "important partner" in efforts to reduce human smuggling and terrorism in the region.

"The support being announced today will help the Thai government make the country safer for its citizens and foreign travellers, and ensure it is not used as a conduit for human smuggling," he said in a statement.

Harper said the initiatives would be funded through Canada's Anti-Crime Capacity Building Program, which invests up to $15 million a year towards helping countries in the Americas fight crime throughout the western hemisphere.

Thailand and Canada ramped up a security partnership to thwart human smuggling in 2010, after the cargo ship MV Sun Sea landed in B.C. carrying 492 Tamil asylum-seekers from Sri Lanka.

Smuggling mastermind charged

Some of the migrants were accused of being members of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, a banned terrorist organization and separatist group that lost the civil war in 2009.

RCMP have since formally charged Thayakaran Markandu for organizing the illegal transport of the migrants to Canada, and have launched an international manhunt.

The prime minister is continuing a six-day, three-country swing through Asia with visits to Japan and South Korea.

In Thailand, he was expected to be briefed by Thai security officials as well as by a Canadian team including members of the RCMP, tasked with preventing smuggling networks from taking ships to Canada from Southeast Asia.

On Friday, he and Thai Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra signed a letter of understanding focusing on enhancing a security partnership between the two countries.