External affairs minister Sushma Swaraj Saturday raised the issue of Indian fishermen with Sri Lankan Prime Minister Ranil Wickramasinghe hours after he stoked controversy with his remarks that Indian fishermen may be shot if they intruded in Lankan waters.
Swaraj, who is on a two-day trip to Colombo ahead of Prime Minister Narendra Modi's visit next week, said the fishermen issue should be addressed from a “humanitarian” point of view. She also countered Wickramasinghe’s attempt to link the issue with the arrest of two Italian marines.
“In the discussion with Prime Minister of Sri Lanka, she (Swaraj) raised the matter regarding issues related to Indian fishermen. She explained our view that issues of fishermen is a humanitarian issue. It is an issue of livelihood," MEA spokesperson Syed Akbaruddin said.
Wickramasinghe made the comments in an interview to a Tamil news channel during which he claimed that Indian fishermen were taking away the livelihood of fishermen from northern Lanka. “If someone tries to break into my house, I can shoot. If he gets killed... Law allows me to do that," he had said.
He also justified the “right to take coercive action” by citing India’s arrest of two Italian marines who had gunned down Indian fishermen, saying that if India is friendly with Italy, it should show the "same magnanimity to Italy that you want us to show (to India)."
Countering the Lankan PM, Akbaruddin said, “Absolutely no. These are two different issues.” He added that aspects of the two issues were different from both humanitarian and legal perspectives.
During his meeting with Swaraj on Saturday, sources said Wickramasinghe assured her that his “government understands the fishermen issue needs long-term solution and is working with India on that.”
The issue also figured in Swaraj’s talks with the Tamil National Alliance (TNA) — the first time the TNA raised it with the Indian government. It would also be discussed during a meeting of fishermen associations from both nations to be held after Modi’s visit.