Sri Lanka has asked India to help monitor vessels using sea lanes between the countries, in a move to protect Indian fishing boats and prevent the rebel Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) operating in the waters.
A monitoring arrangement will avoid recent allegations that Lankan navy vessels fired on Indian fishing boats, the Sri Lankan government said on Monday on its website. It rejected the allegations and accused LTTE of instigating such reports. The increase in the allegations of attacks come, as the Indian authorities “are taking steps to curb the arms smuggling networks of LTTE”, the government said.
Tamil Nadu created new checkpoints and police posts along its coastline last month, to prevent weapons being smuggled across the Palk Strait, about a two-hour boat ride to Sri Lanka. Fighting between the Sri Lankan army and LTTE erupted last year, halting efforts to end the Tamil Tigers’ two-decade-long struggle for a separate homeland in the north and east of the island.
Sri Lanka wants to “work out an arrangement with the Indian side to jointly monitor the International Maritime Boundary Line on either side, as well as share information regarding the movement of Indian fishermen,” the statement says. The navy has been instructed “not to use strict and harsh measures to prevent illegal fishing” by Indian boats in Lankan waters, it said.
The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees estimated last November that more than 16,000 people crossed to Tamil Nadu to escape fighting in Sri Lanka since January 2006.
India blamed LTTE for the 1991 assassination of former prime minister Rajiv Gandhi, who was killed by a female suicide bomber. Gandhi sent Indian peacekeeping soldiers to the island in 1987, as part of an accord with Lankan government. The Indian contingent completed a withdrawal from the country in March 1990, after two years of clashes with LTTE fighters.
LTTE, which is fighting for a separate homeland in Lanka, last month accused the government of trying to impose a military solution, after the army captured 16 rebel bases in the northeastern region since January, and began offensives near the eastern port of Batticaloa.
More than one lakh civilians fled villages near Batticaloa in the past few days to escape artillery shelling, LTTE’s Peace Secretariat said. It accused the army of deliberately firing at civilian settlements.
The Tamil Tigers are preventing civilians trying to reach government-controlled areas, the Lankan government said last week. Many are used as human shields to protect rebel gun posts or are forced to join the group, it said.
As many as two lakh people have been left homeless by fighting in the north and east in the past six months, UN Children’s Fund (Unicef) said last week in a report.
An estimated six lakh people remain cut off in the northern Jaffna region by fighting that began last August, Unicef, said, adding the violence between the army and LTTE is at the highest level since a ceasefire was declared in 2002.
LTTE, classified as a terrorist organization by the US, the European Union and India, last month marked the fifth anniversary of the ceasefire by saying the Sri Lankan army’s offensives will force Tamils to renew their campaign for self-determination.
Two rounds of peace talks in Geneva last year failed to make any progress to end the conflict that has killed more than 60,000 people. Tamils make up less than a fifth of the population of 20 million.