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Will do everything to ensure safe return of fishermen, says India

Will do everything to ensure safe return of fishermen, says India

New Delhi: Amid reports that Prime Minister Narendra Modi has spoken to Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa on the issue of five Indian fishermen sentenced to death in the island nation, India said Monday that it is "examining all avenues and "will do everything possible to ensure" their return.

External affairs ministry spokesperson Syed Akbaruddin, answering questions at a briefing here, said that the Indian High Commission in Colombo has got the judgement from a Sri Lanka lower court on the sentencing of Emerson, P. Augustus, R. Wilson, K. Prasath and J. Langlet - who were sentenced to death by the Colombo High Court on Oct 30 on charges of drug trafficking.

He said the judgement is more than 200 page long and in Sinhalese.

India has hired "the best legal brains" in Sri Lanka to fight the case. The lawyers are examining the judgement".

"We are examining the best avenues to proceed so that the five fishermen can be brought back home safely. What is the best process is a work in process. We will do everything possible to ensure the return of the five fishermen in accordance with Sri Lankan legal process," he added.

Akbaruddin also said that India accords "very high priority" to the matter.

"We are exploring a variety of avenues to ensure their return," he said, adding that they have not arrived at a conclusion on the avenues on which to proceed.

"It is a delicate matter," he said, and added that "we haven't reached a situation where we could say the situation has reached a happy conclusion".

Last week, India's High Commissioner to Sri Lanka Yash Sinha met the five Indian fishermen at Colombo's Welikada prison and assured them of every effort to secure their early release and repatriation.

Akbaruddin said earlier that India and Sri Lanka have in place a "legal architecture" to deal with such cases and cited an earlier instance in which the death sentences of two Indian nationals were commuted to life imprisonment by the then Sri Lankan president.

The two Indians served some period of their sentence in Sri Lanka, and under an agreement by which a sentenced prisoner can serve the sentence in their respective countries, the two were transferred to India in 2013.

While one has completed his sentence and been set free, the other is still serving his sentence in India, the spokesman had said.

There have been widespread protests in Tamil Nadu against the death sentence.

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