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TN politicos discuss release of fishermen

Some Tamil Nadu politicians have secretly negotiated with the LTTE for the release of 11 fishermen who were in the custody of LTTE for more than a month, reports PK Balachandran.
Hindustan Times | By PK Balachandran, Colombo
UPDATED ON MAY 20, 2007 07:22 PM IST

Some Tamil Nadu politicians had secretly negotiated with the LTTE for the release of 11 fishermen who were in the custody of the Sri Lankan Tamil militant group for more than a month, the Colombo-based Sunday Island said.

The release had occurred consequent to the interception by the Maldivian Coast Guard of an Indian registered fishing trawler which the LTTE had commandeered for gun-running, the paper said.

The confession of the trawler's engineer, Simon Soza, had led to the confirmation of the earlier suspicion that the LTTE was holding 12
Indian fishermen in captivity for over a month.

Soza, who had surrendered to the Maldivians voluntarily, spilled the beans about the LTTE's activities in the area including the abduction of the 12 Indian fishermen.

"Had he died in the confrontation, the situation would have been different," the paper quoted a Sri Lankan Navy officer as saying.

On Friday, the LTTE had secretly brought the fishermen to two different places on the Rameswaram coast in Tamil Nadu and beaten a
hasty retreat.

The fishermen addressed the press in Chennai in the presence of Tamil Nadu Chief Minister M Karunanidhi and accused the LTTE of abducting them and ill-treating them while in custody.

Sunday Island's un-attributed claim about secret negotiations with the LTTE has come in the midst of much speculation here about four things:

(1) LTTE's decision to abduct the fishermen and keep them in custody for over 30 days, when they could have killed them easily. This is the most intriguing part.
(2) Releasing the fishermen after claiming that they were not in its custody.
(3)Tamil Nadu police making the fishermen say that they were ill-treated by the Tigers.
(4) Tamil Nadu government taking an anti-LTTE line when the Centre had taken a different one, with Defence Minister AK Antony ignoring the actions of the LTTE and blaming only the Sri Lankan Navy for the killing of Indian fishermen between 1991 and mid April 2007.

According to Sunday Island the Tigers had to release the fishermen because engineer Souza had spilled the beans about the LTTE's activities in the area when he was questioned by the Sri Lankan Navy and the Maldivian police.

Political angle

But the more politically oriented say that the LTTE released the fishermen because it did not want to alienate the Tamil Nadu fishermen and antagonise state Chief Minister M Karunanidhi.

The LTTE may need the cooperation of the Tamil Nadu fishermen in the times to come. And secondly, the abduction was becoming a hot political issue in Tamil Nadu with the ebullient anti-LTTE AIADMK leader J Jayalalithaa accusing Karunanidhi of turning a blind eye to
its depredations in the state.

It is pointed out here that the LTTE has a vested interest in saving Karunanidhi because Jayalalithaa is genuinely anti-LTTE and had been
hard on it when she was Chief Minister.

The fact that the fishermen abused the Tigers in the presence of an approving Karunanidhi has given the stamp of credibility to his claim
that he too is anti-LTTE. This may have been done with the approval of the Central government since Karunanidhi's party, DMK, is part of the Central government.

However, many observers here see a contradiction between the stand of the Tamil Nadu government and the Centre on the fishermen's issue.
While Karunanidhi had been accusing the LTTE of kidnapping and killing Indian fishermen, Defence Minister AK Antony made a statement in
parliament last Wednesday in which he accused only the Sri Lankan Navy of killing Indian fishermen between 1991 and mid-April 2007. The
LTTE's killings and abductions were not mentioned.

But those who know Indian parliamentary procedure say that the answer to an un-starred question always relates to that question precisely.

The question was about killings by the Sri Lankan Navy and the answer was that the latter had killed 77. There was no room for mentioning
the LTTE's doings, it is pointed out.

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