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Process to Release Indian, Sri Lankan Fishermen to Complete Today

COLOMBO:  The formalities for releasing 163 Indian and Sri Lankan fishermen detained in either country for allegedly fishing in each other’s waters are expected to be completed by today, Fisheries Minister Mahinda Amaraweera said on Sunday.

“The release of 37 Sri Lankan fishermen in Indian custodyand 126 Indian fishermen in Sri Lankan custody would be possible as formalities should conclude by Monday,” Mr Amaraweera said.

The fishermen are being released as humanitarian gesture.  However, he said Sri Lanka will continue to hold the boats and equipment of the Indian fishermen arrested for allegedly poaching in Sri Lankan waters.

“We will confiscate all equipment and it will be continued in future,” Mr Amaraweera said.

On the talks held between the two fishing communities, the Sri Lankan minister said the dialogue had not been successful.

“Our fishing organisations have told me that talks would be of no use. Organisation representatives are unable to take any decisions.

Representatives from the Indian side are not fishermen. Because it is the Tamil Nadu politicians who own these boats,” he said.

He said Sri Lanka would continue to explore the “diplomatic channels” to resolve the issue.

“Our intention is to settle this problem while maintaining the goodwill with the Indian government,” Mr Amaraweera said.

Fishermen violating each other’s territorial waters has become a thorny issue in the Indo-Lanka relations. Sri 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.

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