In sudden drama on the high seas off the coast of Rameshwaram, about 600 km South of there, 25 Tamil Nadu fishermen were injured on Friday while fishing in the waters near ‘Katchatheevu’ island in the Palk Straits, in an attack allegedly by the Sri Lankan Navy.
The fishermen, all from Rameshwaram and nearby Mandapam areas, had put out to sea but quickly sped back to the coast after they were “assaulted” in the mid-sea by the Sri Lankan Navy and their nets and boats damaged, top Police sources in the district headquarters of Ramanathapuram told HT over telephone this afternoon.
“It is not clear whether the Island Navy had opened fire in the air, but they say that our fishermen strayed into Sri Lankan waters, a charged denied by the Tamil Nadu fishermen,” the sources said. The local fishermen, most of whom suffered minor injuries, claimed they were within the Indian maritime boundary.
With heavy fighting by the Sri Lankan military forces in the Mullaitivu area in the Island’s North-East, sources said that Tamil refugee arrivals into Rameshwaram has fallen sharply as it is the Island’s North-Western coast that is close to Tamil Nadu’s shores. The fleeing refugees will have to either come through Jaffna or take the land route to reach Mannar on the North-West coast to come by boat here, sources said.
But with the Sri Lankan Army under total control of those areas, it has become virtually impossible for Tamil refugees to cross over, the sources said, citing the sharp drop in their arrivals in January to just 103 refugees. This is against an average of 700 refugees per month arriving in Rameshwaram from Sri Lanka in the last three years.
The ground conditions under total Army control in Northern Sri Lanka also made it difficult for Tamil militants to escape to Tamil Nadu’s coast, sources said. Yet, the Sri Lankan Navy were apprehensive that the “sea Tigers” could infiltrate with the help of some local fishermen on the other side of Palk Straits and this could be one reason for their assault on the Tamil Nadu fishermen today, the sources pointed out. In another untoward incident, a car and two-wheeler of the State CPI leader, Mr. D. Pandian, was set ablaze by some miscreants at his house here today. Mr Pandian, a vocal backer of the Sri Lankan Tamils cause, was away at Dharmapuri when this happened.
DMK-Congress line up galaxy of leaders for ‘save Tamil’ rallies
Meanwhile, the DMK and its key ally, Congress, along with the Dravidar Kazhagam (DK) under the banner of their newly formed ‘Forum for the Rights and Welfare of Sri Lankan Tamils’, to counter the opposition’s ‘Sri Lankan Tamils Protection Movement’, has lined up a galaxy of leaders for a series of rallies across the State for three days from Feb 7, demanding a ceasefire and return of normalcy in Northern Sri Lanka.
Significantly, in a measure of the importance they attach to this issue in the run-up to the Lok Sabha polls, the DMK-Congress forum has roped in star speakers including the Union Home Minister, Mr P Chidambaram and the Panchayati Raj Minister, Mr Mani Shankar Aiyar, to address the rallies in Sivaganga and Nagapattinam respectively.
All the DMK’s top leaders, sans the Party President, Mr M Karunanidhi who is in hospital, including General Secretary, Prof K Anbazhagan, Treasurer, Mr MK Stalin, his elder brother, MK Azhagiri, Union Ministers, Mr TR Baalu and Mr A Raja, besides Rajya Sabha MP, Ms. Kanimozhhi, and former Union Minister, Mr Dayanidhi Maran, have also been drafted to address similar rallies in different parts of the State.
Mr Karunanidhi in a passionate appeal from his hospital bed today, urged all the parties to set aside their individual political differences and “speak with one voice” to help protect the lives, property and rights of the long-suffering Sri Lankan Tamils.