Colombo, March 7: The festering India-Sri Lanka fishermen issue got a further impetus on Saturday with Sri Lankan Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe stirring a controversy, when he referred to intruding Indian fishermen and said his country’s law has a provision to “shoot” anyone trying to “break into my house”.
The statement, made to a television channel, came as India’s Exterl Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj was in Colombo to lay the ground for Prime Minister rendra Modi’s bilateral visit next week, the first by an Indian prime minister since 1987. Sushma Swaraj also met Wickremesinghe later and raised the fishermen issue with him.
Briefing reporters, Indian exterl affairs ministry spokesperson Syed Akbaruddin said Sushma Swaraj raised the matter related to Indian fishermen during talks with the Sri Lankan prime minister. “She explained our view that issue of fishermen is a humanitarian issue. It is an issue of livelihood,” the spokesperson said.
To a question on Wickremesinghe linking the fishermen issue with that of the two Italian marines facing murder charges in India for killing two Indian fishermen, Akbaruddin said the two were different issues and cannot be linked. The Italian marines was a legal issue while the fishermen issue was a livelihood and humanitarian one, he said.
“And the exterl affairs minister (Sushma Swaraj) forthrightly explained to the Sri Lankan prime minister our perspective on this. Our understanding is that he does understand what the nuances and differences are and agreed to take this conversation forward,” he said.
Wickremesinghe said his government was willing to make a “reasoble deal” with India with respect to fishing rights. To a question if shooting at intruding Indian fishermen can be justified, Wickremesinghe said: “If someone tries to break into my house, I can shoot. If he gets killed... law allows me to do that... On the fishermen issue, as far as I’m concerned, I have very very strong lines. This is our waters... fishermen of Jaff should be allowed to fish. We stopped them from fishing. That’s why the Indian fishermen came in... they are willing to have a deal... let’s have a reasoble deal.. but not at the expense of the income of the northern fishermen... no...” Wickremesinghe continued: “Why are you coming into our waters? Why are you fishing in our waters? Stay on the Indian side... there will be no issue... no one will shoot anyone else... you stay on the Indian side, let our fishermen stay on the Sri Lankan side... otherwise, don’t make accusations of human rights violation by the vy. You came in there.”
Wickremesinghe also took a pot shot at India for filing murder charges against the two Italian marines over the killing of two Indian fishermen in 2012. “Why do you all pick up the Italian sailors? You say you are friendly with Italy, show that same magnimity to Italy that you want us to show.” On the marines had killed two Indian fishermen, he said: “Look... if you want us to show that magnimity to your fishermen, India should show the same magnimity to Italian sailors.” He also said Indian fishermen could not be allowed to trawl in his country’s territorial waters. His comments came even as armed Sri Lankan fishermen allegedly abducted seven Indian fishermen late on Wednesday, and demanded a ransom from their families. The seven Indian fishermen later returned to Tamil du, a leader said on Saturday in Rameswaram. “Seven fishermen were allegedly abducted by some armed Sri Lankan fishermen on March 4. They were later released by their captors after confiscating their catch, mobile phones and other equipment,” G. Arul, a fishermen’s leader in Rameswaram town, told on Saturday. According to the Sri Lankan media, the Indian Coast Guard detained six Sri Lankan fishermen on the charge of poaching in Indian waters, 128 utical miles off gapattim coast on Thursday. Senior Tamil jourlist R. Rajagopalan has said Sushma Swaraj should issue a statement condemning Wickremesinghe’s “provocative” speech regarding the Indian fishermen. (IANS)