Govt summons Sri Lankan envoy, asks to return 53 fishermen

Last Updated: Thu, Mar 14, 2013 16:09 hrs

New Delhi: India on Thursday told Sri Lanka to treat the 53 Indian fishermen arrested by the navy there humanely and free them at the earliest.

The external affairs ministry said that Sri Lankan authorities arrested 19 fishermen on Wednesday and another 34 on Thursday for allegedly fishing in SriLanka's waters.

He said the first lot of 19 had been taken to Talaimannar in Sri Lanka's northwest, and the Indian consul in Jaffna was trying to gain access to them.

"We are trying to meet the Sri Lankan authorities," regarding the other 34 too, he added.

He said Sri Lanka's deputy high commissioner was summoned on Thursday and told to treat the arrested men in a humane manner and that there should be no violence against them.

The spokesman said India expected these fishermen to be swiftly sent back to India along with their fishing vessels.

Earlier, the Sri Lankan navy said it had arrested 53 Indian fishermen who entered Sri Lankan waters illegally.

Navy spokesman Kosala Warnakulasuriya said 19 were caught off the northern seas of Mannar on Wednesday evening and 34 off Delft islands, also in the north, on Thursday.

Indian and Sri Lankan fishermen often stray into each other's territory as both countries are divided by a small strip of sea.

Jayalalithaa writes to PM

Earlier in the day, Tamil Nadu Chief Minister J. Jayalalithaa asked Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to step up efforts to secure the release of 53 Indian fishermen who were arrested by the Sri Lankan naval force.

"We are agitated by incidents of repeated capture of our fishermen while pursuing their livelihood. We expect the government of India to also respond and react pro-actively when incidents of this nature happen," Jayalalithaa told the prime minister in a letter, which was released here.

"Let Sri Lanka not be emboldened by your silence and construe it as a sign of weakness and indifference towards our fishermen," she said.

Jayalalithaa also urged Manmohan Singh to summon the Lankan high commissioner in New Delhi and lodge a strong protest against the continuing arrests and incidents of violence against Indian fishermen.

She recalled the pending case in the Supreme Court filed by Tamil Nadu challenging the unilateral withdrawal of the international maritime boundary line (IMBL) leading to the ceding of Katchatheevu islet to Sri Lanka.

"You will agree with me that solutions to the fishing disputes between two neighbouring countries are not resolved by force or by treating the fishermen of the neighbouring country as 'criminals' and arresting and terrorising them through assaults and gun firing," she said.

According to her, the increasing belligerence of Sri Lanka in the recent past towards the Indian fishing boats fishing in their traditional fishing areas, as exhibited by a spurt of arrests and violence, is a worrisome trend, the chief minister said.

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