Sri Lanka has sought clarification from India on Defence Minister AK Antony's statement in parliament on Wednesday blaming the Sri Lankan Navy for the death of 77 Indian fishermen between 1991 and mid April 2007.
The Island daily on Friday forthrightly condemned India, saying that Antony's statement had brazenly ignored the killing and abduction of Indian fishermen by the LTTE in March this year, which were acknowledged by the Tamil Nadu chief minister and the state DG of Police also.
But Foreign Secretary Palitha Kohona was more cautious. All he would tell Hindustan Times was: "We have sought clarification from India."
The Island quoted un-named Sri Lankan officials as saying that there was "absolutely no truth" in Antony's charge.
The Tamil Nadu Director General of Police D Mukherjee had acknowledged that 12 fishermen from the state were in the illegal custody of the LTTE.
Earlier, on April 11, the Indian Coast Guard had intercepted a suspect vessel and arrested the occupants who happened to be Indian and Sri Lankan nationals. Six of them were found to be Sea Tiger cadres. The leader was Robinson, and Bonny Bass was his deputy.
The Sea Tigers were transporting arms and ammo from a bigger vessel, when their boat developed engine trouble and began drifting towards Indian waters. They then jettisoned their cargo into the sea and sought help from some Indian fishermen in the vicinity. Eventually they were caught by the Indian Coast Guard and handed over to the Tamil Nadu police.
Under sustained questioning, they said that the abducted Indian fishermen were in LTTE's custody. They also admitted that their boat Maria was involved in the March 29 shooting incident. The LTTE denied their involvement, but the Tamil Nadu DGP said that he did not believe them.
The Island newspaper pointed out that in January, five Tamil Nadu fishermen were caught in Sri Lankan waters carrying 60,000 Indian-made electric detonators for the LTTE. One of the fishermen had earlier been caught transporting 500 kg of gelignite.
New Delhi toes TN line
There is a feeling in Sri Lanka that Antony made the statement that he did, only to please the pro-LTTE lobby in Tamil Nadu. In a strongly worded editorial, The Island said that India's Sri Lanka policy was being dictated by Tamil Nadu. Sri Lankans attribute the attempt to please Tamil Nadu to the compulsions of coalition politics. The Manmohan Singh government has Tamil nationalists parties like the DMK and PMK and he cannot afford to displease them, it is said.