India issues demarche to Lanka on jailed fishermen

Fisher folk fight      Sri Lankan High Commissioner Prasad Kariyawasam was summoned to the South Block on Wednesday and a formal démarche made against the large number of Indian fishermen languishing in Sri Lankan custody for periods up to two months.

Mounting pressure from Tamil Nadu had the Union government summoning the Sri Lankan high commissioner on Wednesday and issuing a demarche on the issue of 114 Indian fishermen being lodged in Sri Lankan jails.

The démarche reflected India’s annoyance over the absence of any movement on the release of the fishermen despite several high-level interventions. This comes against the backdrop of TN chief minister J Jayalalithaa’s letters to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, condemning the attacks and abduction of fishermen by the Sri Lankan Navy near Kachchateevu. Jayalalithaa, who drew the attention of the PM thrice in less than a week, said it was an act of an unfriendly nation, and should be countered effectively by coercive diplomacy.

Joint secretary Harsh Vardhan Shringla summoned Sri Lankan high commissioner Prasad Kariyawasam and made a formal demarche (a protest presented through diplomatic channels) on the fishermen lodged in Lankan prisons.

Official sources said the India’s high commission in Colombo too raised this matter formally with the Lankan foreign ministry, since 114 Indian fishermen had been held on various occasions in the last two months .The issue was previously raised with Sri Lankan Minister of Economic Development Basil Rajapaksa during his visit to New Delhi in July and by National Security Advisor Shiv Shankar Menon during his Sri Lanka visit the same month.

In a related development, a fishermen delegation from Rameswaram called on chief secretary Sheela Balakrishnan , seeking the state’s intervention in felicitating talks with their Sri Lankan counterparts . Lankan fishermen had extended an invitation to Rameswaram fishermen to visit Sri Lanka between August 1 and 6 to hold talks with the fishermen associations and bureaucrats to arrive at a lasting solution to the fishing rights.

Ramanathapuram Tamil Nadu Mechanised Boat Fishermen Association secretary B Jesuraja , a member of the delegation said the meeting with the senior bureaucrat was satisfactory . “She assured us that our request will be looked into,” he told TOI. SriL ankan minister for economic development, Basil Rajapakse also invited the fishermen delegation, who met him during his recent visittoDelhi ,for talksin Colombo .

The frequent assaults and long detentions have triggered unrest among the Rameswaram fishermen. Savariar Fishermen Association president R Sahayam said the extension of remand period by the Lankan court was a cause for worry. “Of the 700 boats operating from Rameswaram , not even 200boats ventureintothesea these days due to fear ,” he said . The associations have called for a meeting on Thursday to discuss about the agitation programmes.

The Jaffna and Trincomalee courts in Sri Lanka on Wednesday extended the remand of 65 fishermen from Nagapattinam and Karaikal till August 21. In her letter , chief minister J Jayalalithaa had said the fishermen community in TamilN aduis nursing a strong grievance against Union government that it had forsaken them during the time of crisis.

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