India asks Sri Lanka to release 136 fishermen

New Delhi, February 17 (PTI): India on Thursday conveyed its “deep concern” over the detention of 136 Indian fishermen in Jaffna and asked the Sri Lankan government to take “necessary” steps to get them released. “I have just had a telephonic conversation with the Minister of External Affairs of Sri Lanka (G.L. Peiris) and I have conveyed India’s deep concern at the detention of nearly 136 fishermen in Jaffna district,” External Affairs Minister S.M. Krishna said in New Delhi.
The Indian fishermen are currently in the custody of Sri Lankan authorities. Out of the 136 fishermen 112 were caught on last Tuesday by a group of local fishermen and handed over to the police there. This has triggered protests in Tamil Nadu, where the fishermen hailed from.  “I have also conveyed my deep regret that Sri Lankan nationals and Sri Lankan fishermen have taken law into their own hands and confronted our fishermen,”  Krishna said. He said even though there is no justification for fishermen to stray into Sri Lankan waters, likewise Sri Lankan fishermen have to be “very cautious” when they are getting into Indian waters.
 “But nevertheless in the light of the bilateral relationship between Sri Lanka and India which has always been cordial, I think it is necessary that all of us must help to defuse the situation. I have suggested the fishermen to be released...,” Krishna said. He said it so happens that Thursday is a holiday in Sri Lanka and courts are not functioning and “I am hopeful the Sri Lanka government will take necessary steps to get all 136 fishermen released” when the courts reopen on Friday.  “I have also suggested to the Sri Lankan External Affairs Minister that fishermen associations (from both sides) themselves should get in touch with each other so that they can come to some understanding with reference to fishing in international waters,” he said.
The incidents of detention of and recent attacks on fishermen have triggered protests in Tamil Nadu where over 5,000 DMK workers, including party MPs Kanimozhi and T.K.S. Elangovan, were arrested on Wednesday when they tried to take out a rally to Sri Lankan Deputy High Commission in Chennai. India had last month accused the Sri Lankan Navy of killing at least two Indian fishermen. The killings had triggered a flurry of diplomatic activity between the two south Asian neighbours following which Indian Foreign Secretary Nirupama Rao visited Colombo to seek assurances to prevent such incidents in future. The issue was also raised by Mr. Krishna in his meeting with his Sri Lankan counterpart Mr. Peiris earlier this month in Thimphu, on the sidelines of a SAARC ministerial conference.