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Indo-Lanka Fishing Crisis: Sri Lanka Awaits GPS Data As Tensions Remain

by Ashanthi Warunasuriya

  • Indian fishermen had two weeks ago accused the Sri Lanka Navy of attacking them, killing one fisherman in the process
  • Representatives of fishermen’s associations in the North and residents in the area said they do not believe the Navy was responsible for the attack
  • Sri Lankan Navy handed over the 77 fishermen from Tamil Nadu, arrested over the past two months, to Indian Coast Guard at the International Maritime Boundary Line in the Palk Bay
  • Similarly, 12 Sri Lankan fishermen, released from the Puzhal Prison in Chennai on March 10, were handed over to the Sri Lankan Navy

External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj and Minister Mahinda Amaraweera

Sri Lanka was on Friday still awaiting Global Position System (GPS) data from India as investigations into the alleged attack on Indian fishermen continued, the Navy media unit told The Sunday Leader.

.Sri Lankan authorities have sought the GPS data from India but the Navy said as of Friday it was yet to receive the data. Indian fishermen had two weeks ago accused the Sri Lanka Navy of attacking them, killing one fisherman in the process.

When queried, representatives of fishermen’s associations in the North and residents in the area said they do not believe the Navy was responsible for the attack. According to reports, the bullet that was fired into the Indian vessel bears an Indian serial number.

Accordingly, suspicions have been raised if the attack was carried out by some Indians. Expressing his views on the matter, Minister Mahinda Amaraweera said that the investigations are being carried out on the matter.

At present a minimum of 400 to 500 Indian fishing vessels poach in Sri Lankan territorial waters at any given time.  Jude Kumara, a boat owner in Kachchathivu said that the high number of poaching in Sri Lankan waters has had a negative impact on local fishermen.

Pointing out that these Indian fishing vessels are tearing up fishing nets that have been laid out by Sri Lankan fishermen, Jude said that Indian fishermen are using various tactics to poach in Sri Lankan waters.

A fisherman in Delft Island said that there are over 1500 fishing families whose only livelihood depends on fishing. According to him, once these nets are ruined by Indian fishing vessels, the fishermen are unable to get back on their feet for days.

At a time the lives of Sri Lankan fishermen have fallen to such unfortunate state, the necessity towards finding a permanent diplomatic solution for this problem has become urgent.

At present these people have no other means of income other than fishing. When Indian fishing vessels are coming into Sri Lanka in large numbers, the Navy too does not have sufficient resources to monitor and pursue each one of them. There have been many occasions where the navy had released some Indian poachers after strong advice due to humanitarian reasons. Under such circumstances, it is unthinkable that our navy would ever shoot at Indian fishermen.

 

Navy denies allegation

At present, Sri Lanka Navy has been upgraded with state of the art technology.  Accordingly, communication has been improved to a level that any naval vessel is capable of contacting the Navy commander from sea. Before commencing fire, permission from the Navy commander is compulsory. But on the day of the dispute, no such request has been made from the Navy commander. Accordingly the navy has refuted the allegation.

The Indo-Lanka fishing issue was once again been brought under the spotlight with the annual Catholic feast at St. Anthony’s church in Kachchathivu Island.

Last week Indian External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj informed the Indian Parliament that the Indian government is taking up the issue of fishermen with the Sri Lankan government through diplomatic channels.

Making a statement in the Lok Sabha, Sushma said that the Sri Lankan government has assured probe into the killing of an Indian fisherman allegedly by the Sri Lankan Navy Indian TV reported.

However, she added that the Sri Lankan Navy has denied its involvement in the killing.

“We have taken up the issue of our fishermen with Sri Lankan Government to ensure that our fishermen are treated in a humane manner,” Sushma said.

“A fishing vessel from Tamil Nadu was fired upon allegedly by the Sri Lankan Navy, leading to the death of an Indian fisherman. The government took up the matter and expressed our strong concern over the incident,” she said.

“Our High Commissioner personally spoke to Sri Lankan Prime Minister and Navy commander on this matter. They maintained their patrol boats are not authorised to fire at Indian fishermen,” the minister said.

Six fishermen from Thangachimadam in Ramanathapuram district were fishing near the Katchatheevu islet in the narrow sea dividing the two countries when they were fired at on the night of March 6, Indian officials said.

The Navy however denied claims it opened fire on a group of Indian fishermen killing one and injuring another.

The deceased fisherman was identified as K. Britso (21) from Thangachimadam.

 

Ultimatum

Tamil Nadu Fishermen had last week issued an ultimatum to Sri Lanka and India, demanding that concrete steps be taken to address the Indo-Lanka fishing dispute, failing which the situation may spiral out of control.

Tamil Nadu Fishermen’s Association President S Emiret had told The Sunday Leader in an article published last week that the incident must be fully investigated.

He claimed that some 500 Indian fishermen have been killed over the years at sea yet no one has been held accountable.

“There is no point denying the latest incident. There is proof that the Tamil Nadu fishermen was shot dead by the Sri Lanka Navy,” he said.

Emiret said that a demand has been made for those involved in the shooting to be brought to India and tried before an Indian court.Tamil Nadu fishermen have also demanded that the Sri Lankan High Commissioner to India be expelled over the incident.

“If Sri Lanka really feels India is a friendly country then they must hold those responsible accountable,” he said.

Talks are to be held next month between India and Sri Lanka to seek a permanent solution to the fishing issue.

However Emiret said talks so far have failed to address the issue and so Tamil Nadu fishermen have no faith in more discussions.

Last week, seventy-seven Indian and 12 Sri Lankan fishermen were repatriated in line with decision taken by the two countries to set free fishermen in each other’s custody to defuse tension following the killing of an Indian fisherman last week.

Sri Lankan Navy handed over the 77 fishermen from Tamil Nadu, arrested over the past two months, to Indian Coast Guard at the International Maritime Boundary Line in the Palk Bay.

Similarly, 12 Sri Lankan fishermen, released from the Puzhal Prison in Chennai on March 10, were handed over to the Sri Lankan Navy.The twelve were arrested off Nagapattinam coast separately on March 8 and 9 for allegedly fishing in Indian waters.

The 77 fishermen from Pudukottai and Ramanathapuram districts were arrested by the Sri Lankan Navy for allegedly fishing in their territorial waters between February and March and lodged in Jaffna and Vavuniya prisons in the island nation.

Sri Lanka and India had agreed to release fishermen held in each other’s custody after a high-level discussion between the two sides in Colombo in a bid to defuse the tension following the killing of the 22-year-old Indian fisherman.

 

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