In a significant move, India and Sri Lanka on Monday released 52 fishermen each as a goodwill measure prior to the fishermen association meeting to be held in Chennai on January 20.
The release of the fishermen was part of a process and understanding reached between Indian government and government of Sri Lanka prior to the talks, the spokesperson in the external affairs ministry said.
Out of 52 Indian fishermen, 20 were released from Mallakam and 32 were released from Trincomali, the Spokesperson said, adding 52 Sri Lankan fishermen were freed from Tamil Nadu.
"The government attaches the highest importance to the safety, security and welfare of Indian fishermen. It has worked assiduously to secure the release of Indian fishermen who are apprehended by the Sri Lankan authorities on charges of fishing in Sri Lankan waters," he said.
Similarly, Sri Lankan fishermen have also been apprehended by authorities for straying into Indian waters, he said, adding "keeping in mind the humanitarian and livelihood dimensions of the fishermen' issue, the two countries have reached an understanding to put in place practical measures to deal with bona fide Indian and Sri Lankan fishermen crossing the International Maritime Boundary Line (IMBL)."
Further, in the last meeting of the Joint Working Group on Fisheries which met in January 2012, both sides had agreed to hold a meeting of Fishermen?s Associations, he said.
Fishermen associations have been meeting since 2004. The next such meeting is scheduled to be held in Chennai on January 20, 2014.
The Centre is in touch with governments of Tamil Nadu and Andhra Pradesh in this regard.
Significantly, the release of fishermen comes ahead of Sri Lankan fisheries minister Rajitha Senaratne's meetings with Indian leaders during his visit starting from Tuesday.