At least 112 Indian fishermen from Tamil Nadu were arrested by the Sri Lankan police after they strayed into Lankan waters on Tuesday evening.
Lankan fishermen operating off the Jaffna coast surrounded the Indian fishermen after they spotted the incursion and prevented them from crossing back to Indian waters. Subsequently, the Indian fishermen were escorted to Point Pedro where they were handed over to the police. The 18 trawlers they were travelling on were seized. It is said the incident took place while the Sri Lankan Navy (SLN) kept watch over the developments.
Reports said an emergency meeting of the Tamil Nadu cabinet had been called to review the situation. A protest demonstration was expected to be organised in front of the Lankan deputy high commission in Chennai.
Tuesday's mass arrest was the latest round of controversy to hit the festering fishermen issue plaguing the two countries. In January, two Indian fishermen were allegedly killed by the SLN. While the Lankan authorities including President Mahinda Rajapaksa had denied SLN involvement in either of the incidents, New Delhi had rushed foreign secretary Nirupama Rao to take up the issue with the Lankan authorities. Rajapaksa had promised a full enquiry into the two incidents to Rao. Both had agreed that the use of force against the fishermen should be avoided by either side at all cost.
But the latest incident is unlikely to help resolve the issue any time soon. Diplomatic sources here said effort was on to secure the early release of the Indian fishermen who were to be produced in the court of a Jaffna magistrate on Wednesday. The newly opened Indian consular general office in Jaffna is in touch with the Indian fishermen and working on their early release as well.
What might hamper their early release is that Wednesday and Thursday are both national holidays in Sri Lanka.