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Firing at Indian fishermen denied

Sri Lanka today flatly denied that its navy had fired at three Indian fishermen at sea near the Tamil Nadu coast, leading to the death of one yesterday evening. Sutirtho Patranobis reports.

world Updated: Jan 13, 2011 21:20 IST
Sutirtho Patranobis

Sri Lanka on Thursday flatly denied that its navy had fired at on three Indian fishermen at sea near the Tamil Nadu coast, leading to the death of one on Wednesday evening.

But the swiftness with which the High Commission of India in Colombo took the matter up with the Lankan ministry of external affairs forced the authorities in Colombo to refer the matter to defence secretary, Gotabhaya Rajapaksa and Sri Lankan naval chief's office for further clarity.

External affairs minister GL Peiris went in for a close door meeting with top officials including foreign secretary Romesh Jayasinghe on the incident.

In October, 2008, an Indo-Lanka agreement, followed by a joint statement, had tried to settle the issue.

"As part of these practical arrangements, following the designation by the Government of Sri Lanka of sensitive areas along the Sri Lankan coastline and their intimation to the Government of India, Indian fishing vessels will not venture into these identified sensitive areas. Further, there will be no firing on Indian fishing vessels.It was agreed that Indian fishing vessels would carry valid registration/permit and the fishermen would have on person valid identity cards issued by the Government of Tamil Nadu," the statement said.

More than two years later, the problem quite clearly is far from resolved.

Earlier on Thursday, Laxman Hullugalle, the director general of media centre for national security, and SLN spokesperson, Captain Athula Senarath denied that any such incident had occurred.

"The navy totally denies its involvement (in the incident). We have checked. No such thing happened," Senarath told Hindustan Times.

Senarath added that the navy in fact was frequently helping Indian fishermen in times of trouble.

He said the navy repatriated four Indian fishermen along with their fishing boat near the Indo-Sri Lanka maritime boundary on January 9.

"The Indian fishermen who had been drifting in the Northern seas of Sri Lanka were rescued and provided necessary facilities by SL Navy. They were accompanied to IMBL by SLNS Wickrama II and handed over to Indian authorities on board Indian Coast Guard ship Avvaiyyar, the navy website said.

Similarly, according to the website, Sri Lanka Navy assisted an Indian fishing boat with four fishermen on-board in distress in Sri Lankan waters on December 27.