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Fishermen deaths: Lanka assures probe

world Updated: Feb 01, 2011 00:25 IST
Sutirtho Patranobis

Sri Lanka on Monday deflected accusation about its navy's involvement in the killing of two Indian fishermen with assurances of a thorough enquiry into both incidents. Colombo also asked for more details about the two incidents from New Delhi to facilitate the investigation.

President Mahinda Rajapaksa promised visiting Indian foreign secretary Nirupama Rao that the deaths of two Indian fishermen allegedly at the hand of Sri Lankan navy (SLN) will be thoroughly investigated.

Both sides agreed that use of force even when fishermen were trespassing across international maritime boundary line (IMBL) was unacceptable.

Rao made an unscheduled visit to Sri Lanka after the two deaths triggered a political row in Tamil Nadu, leading to the perception that the Centre wasn't serious in taking up the issue with the Rajapaksa regime.

But importantly, neither Rajapaksa nor defence secretary, Gotabhaya Rajapaksa, or foreign minister GL Peiris admitted during their meetings with Rao that SLN personnel were indeed guilty of either shooting dead or, as in the second case, torturing Indian fishermen to death.

"Well, our information is based on what our fishermen (have) told us...people in naval uniform accosted them. This is what we have ascertained from our side," Rao told reporters, indicating that the Rajapaksa government did not admit to SLN's involvement.

"...Sri Lanka is committed to ascertaining the facts behind the incidents. While continuing with further inquiries, the Sri Lankan authorities have requested that additional information be made available by the Indian side," an India-Sri Lanka joint statement said on Monday.

The SL government has steadfastly denied involvement in either of the two incidents. Instead, it has blamed an unnamed "third party" for carrying out the killings.

When asked about the possible "third party" involvement, Rao said there was "no corroborative evidence" to support that claim.

Rao, however, added that she had conveyed to Lankan authorities the Indian government's "very serious concerns" about the incidents in an "open and candid way."

It was decided that the next meeting of the Joint Working Group on Fishing would be convened at an early date, which would address various issues relating to fishing by the two sides. The Joint Working Group would also discuss the proposed Memorandum of Understanding in the field of fisheries.