Colombo: In a humanitarian gesture, Sri Lanka has freed all the 126 Indian fishermen arrested by its navy for allegedly poaching into the country’s waters.
Their release yesterday came as Lanka and India completed the formalities for the release of fishermen detained in each other’s country for allegedly fishing in each other’s waters, Colombo Page reported. All fishermen are from Tamil Nadu. Indian authorities are also expected to release 37 Lankan fishermen from their custody. Only 116 Indian fishermen were released from jails yesterday as formalities for the release of 10 others could not be completed.
The 10 fishermen had criminal charges filed against them for allegedly ramming a Sri Lankan Navy patrol craft. Although the Attorney General has decided to withdraw the cases against the 10 fishermen, the decision was not communicated to relevant authorities in Jaffna in time. They are expected to be freed today. Fisheries and Aquatic Resources Minister Mahinda Amaraweera had earlier said that Sri Lanka was taking measures to release the 126 Indian fishermen as a humanitarian gesture.
The Minister said that Sri Lanka will continue to hold the boats and equipment of the Indian fishermen arrested for allegedly poaching. The Tamil Nadu fishermen are likely to be repatriated to India on Friday as the sea is “too choppy” for immediate repatriation, the paper quoted the Indian Consul General in Jaffna, A Natarajan, as a humanitarian gesture. Lanka accuses Indian fishermen of straying into its territorial waters, while the latter maintain they are only fishing in their traditional areas, especially around Katchatheevu, an islet ceded to Colombo in 1974.
The issue of poaching by each other’s fishermen has been recurring despite some top level engagements between the two countries since the beginning of 2014. The two countries have held top ministerial level talks in this regard and the issue figured in Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visit to Sri Lanka early this year.