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Sri Lanka terms fishermen issue 'disquieting problem'

Sri Lanka terms fishermen issue disquieting problem

New Delhi: Sri Lanka Sunday said the problem of Indian fishermen entering its territorial waters was assuming "political dimensions" and it has taken to filing legal charges against them, keeping them in custody and slapping fines on them as a means of "effective deterrence".

Sri Lankan Foreign Minister G.L. Peiris, who arrived here Sunday evening on a two-day visit, said Colombo's method of tackling the "disquieting problem" was a "very reasonable response to a problem that has taken on serious proportions".

Peiris, who is here to invite Prime Minister ManmohanSingh to the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) in November in Colombo, remarked that the fishermen's issue has become a "volatile" one in India, especially Tamil Nadu.

On Aug 7, India had summoned the Sri Lankan high commissioner and lodged a formal protest against the custody of over 100 Indian fishermen in the island nation.

Peiris said around 400-500 Indian fishing boats enter Sri Lanka's waters everyday, carrying 1,500 fishermen, with some approaching as close as 700 metres from the shore.

He said the Indian fishermen, with their nylon nets and bottom trawling boats, take away the fishing catch, which is protested by its own fishermen.

"Fishery resources are being taken away, day by day, week by week. There is very strong pressure on the government to take action to preserve the livelihood of our fishermen," said Peiris at a press conference here.

"The government has a duty to do something."

According to Peiris, the arrested Indian fishermen are presented in court and charged, and they are allowed to plead to their charge.

"There is no intention to oppress them or keep them in custody for a very long time.. They have to respond to the charges and give a fine," he said suggesting at around Rs.5,000 to Rs.10,000 fine.

"There has to be some kind of effective deterrence.. The earlier procedure to catch them and release them is not working," he said.

The matter of Indian fishermen had been discussed between External Affairs Minister Salman Khurshid with the Sri Lankan Economic Development Minister Basil Rajapakse during his visit to New Delhi in July.

It also figured in discussions between National Security Advisor Shivshankar Menon and Sri Lankan authorities during his visit to Colombo in July.

On Aug 10, around 20,000 Indian fishermen staged a black flag demonstration in the sea onboard their boats to protest the arrests of 65 of their colleagues by the Sri Lankan Navy.

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