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Sri Lanka to release 85 Indian fishermen to defuse tension between countries

India is expected to reciprocate and release all 19 Sri Lankans in their custody.

india Updated: Mar 08, 2017 21:56 IST
AFP, Colombo
Fishermen,Indian fishermen,Sri Lanka
Fishermen community members on the second day of their protest in Rameswaram on Wednesday.(PTI Photo)

Sri Lanka will release Indian fishermen held for poaching as the two countries try to defuse tension along their maritime border after the killing of a fisherman, an official said on Wednesday.

Local authorities will free 85 Indian fishermen held in custody since early this year without pressing charges, with India expected to reciprocate and release all 19 Sri Lankans in their custody.

The move follows Sri Lanka’s announcement on Tuesday that it had agreed to a joint investigation into the killing of an Indian fisherman in the narrow strip of sea between the two countries.

The victim, who was reported to be 21, was shot dead on Monday and Indian fishermen have said the Sri Lankan navy was responsible -- an allegation Colombo has flatly denied.

Fishermen from the two countries often stray into each others’ waters, creating diplomatic difficulties, though most are detained. It was the first death in six years.

The incident has triggered protests in Rameswaram where the victim was from.

India and Sri Lanka are separated by the narrow Palk Strait, which is a rich fishing ground. In 2014, Sri Lanka passed the death penalty on five Indian fishermen convicted of drug smuggling, but they were later released to Indian custody.

First Published: Mar 08, 2017 21:55 IST