Colombo saw a flurry of diplomatic activity on Wednesday evening to secure the early release of the 112 Indian fishermen after a Jaffna court sent them to 14 days of judicial custody.
The fishermen from Tamil Nadu, out fishing in 18 trawlers, had strayed into Sri Lankan waters off the Jaffna coast when they were spotted and then surrounded by Sri Lankan fishermen on Tuesday evening.
The Lankan fishermen prevented them from crossing back to Indian waters and escorted them to Point Pedro where they were handed over to the police. The trawlers were seized.
The incident took place under the watch of the Sri Lankan navy (SLN) who did not interfere.
Earlier in the day, Sri Lanka's deputy minister of external affairs, Neomal Perera told PTI that it was a ``bailable offence.’’ Diplomatic sources said there was unlikely to be any development on Thursday as it is a public holiday.
The High Commission of India in Colombo would appeal to the court on Friday for the discharge of the fishermen from jail. Indian diplomats were in touch with the Lankan Ministry of External Affairs and the Attorney General’s office to sort out the issue.
For the time, India’s Consul General in Jaffna, V Mahalingam, had been granted counseller access to the jailed fishermen who are currently lodged in a jail in Point Pedro. Minister of Traditional Industries and Small Enterprises, Douglas Devananda visited the Indian fishermen as well.
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 fishermen should be avoided by either side at all cost. But the latest incident is unlikely to help resolve the issue any time soon.
Reports said an emergency meeting of the Tamil Nadu cabinet had been called to review the situation. More than a 1000 were arrested in a protest demonstration organised in front of the Lankan deputy high commission in Chennai.