India, Sri Lanka agree to release fishermen in each others’ custody2 min read . Updated: 03 Jan 2017, 02:12 AM IST
The number of Indian fishermen detained in Sri Lanka has increased since the end of the Sri Lankan civil war in 2009
New Delhi: India and Sri Lanka on Monday agreed to release all Indian and Sri Lankan fishermen—who had strayed into the other’s territorial waters—in their custody, paving the way for removing a key irritant in ties.
Under the agreement reached after a meeting between Radha Mohan Singh, Indian agriculture minister and Mahinda Amaraweera, minister for fisheries and aquatic resources development of Sri Lanka, India will free three Sri Lankan fishermen in its custody while Colombo will free 51 Indian fishermen in its custody.
The meeting between the ministers was at the joint working group (JWG) level, constituted following a decision taken in November, a statement released by the ministry of external affairs in New Delhi said.
“The ministers exchanged views on possible mechanisms to help find a permanent solution to the fishermen issues," the statement said.
“Both sides agreed to a set of Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) to expedite the release and handing over of fishermen in each other’s custody on completion of respective legal and procedural formalities. The immediate release of the fishermen presently in custody was announced following the ministerial level talks," the statement said.
The number of Indian fishermen detained in Sri Lanka has increased since the end of the Sri Lankan civil war in 2009. Previously cordoned off areas like off the coast of northern and eastern Sri Lanka were opened to fishing after the defeat of the Tamil Tiger rebels. And Indian fishermen venturing into these waters have been facing protests from Sri Lankan Tamil fishermen who say that their livelihoods are at stake.
Earlier in the day, Tamil Nadu chief minister O. Panneerselvam wrote to the centre to secure the release of 51 Indian fishermen detained by Sri Lanka.
In his letter addressed to Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Monday, Panneerselvam pointed to media reports that quoted Sri Lankan fisheries minister Mahinda Amaraweera as saying that seized Indian fishing boats and equipment in its custody will be made the property of the government of Sri Lanka, calling them “very unfortunate and needlessly provocative remarks".
Panneerselvam added that a similar statement was also made by the Sri Lanka’s northern province minister for fisheries and rural development Balasubramaniam Deniswaran.
Sri Lankan coast guard and navy have been capturing Indian fishermen straying into Sri Lankan waters or sometimes firing shots to scare them away, which has led to deaths or injury to Indian fishermen.
“As part of the Confidence Building Measures (CBMs) agreed to by both sides, it was decided to intensify cooperation on patrolling and to institute periodic interaction between the Coast Guard of the two countries. An understanding was reached to ensure that there was no physical harm or loss of life while apprehending fishermen by Navy and Coast Guard of the two countries. It was agreed to explore the possibility of introducing effective tracking systems for the fishing vessels and making the use of on board communication equipment mandatory," the statement said.
“The ministers appreciated the efforts taken by the JWG in operationalizing the “Hotline" between Indian and Sri Lankan Coast Guard, which would ensure quick decision making and response," it said.
India has also asked Sri Lanka to release the boats of the 51 fishermen, it said adding the Sri Lankan side agreed to “consider the request in view of the progress being made by the JWG." The next JWG meeting will be held in Colombo in April.