Sri Lanka Navy Chief T.S.G. Samarasinghe on Thursday said that the understanding between Colombo and New Delhi on handling contentious issues arising from the fisher folk of both sides straying in to each other’s waters has eased the tensions to a great extent.
The original understanding made in October 2008 was reiterated in New Delhi on June 24 in the course of a meeting between the External Affairs Minister and a three member Senior Adviser to the Sri Lankan President, Basil Rajapaksa, Defence Secretary of Sri Lanka, Gothbaya Rajapaksa and Secretary to the President, Lalith Weertunga.
“I also took this occasion to reiterate the need to strictly adhere to the understanding reached in October 2008 on matters relating to fishing. The Sri Lankan government clarified that it does not contemplate putting up any military structures at Katchchativu,” the External Minister had said after the meeting with the Sri Lankan delegation.
According to the Sri Lanka Navy Commander, there is a mechanism in place to deal on a humanitarian basis on all issues related to fisher folk. “I must put on record that the Indian Coast Guard, Navy and other authorities are fully cooperative in persuading fisher folk not to stray into the Lankan waters,” he told reporters at a news conference to mark the beginning of the 60th year of the Sri Lanka Navy (SLN).
Describing the Indo-Lanka naval relationship as ‘brilliant’, the SLN chief also raised concern about the continuing incidents of Indian fishermen illegally fishing in the Palk Strait and the presence of unauthorised Indian trawlers in the region.
“Palk Strait continues to be a problem area and on our part, we are honouring the commitment to provide all the assistance to the Indian fisher folk who stray into our waters inadvertently or advertently. Any Indian fisher person found in our waters is being released without following the normal process of law, once we are satisfied that it is a genuine person,” he said.
He called for a two-way reciprocity and said that fishermen from both sides stray into each other’s maritime boundaries and these situations have to be ‘managed’. On the nature of relations between the two sides, he said that most naval officers have been trained in India and that that every six months, there are interactions with their naval counterparts in India.
In response to questions, the SLN chief maintained that all restrictions on Lanka Tamil fishermen in the North and East of Sri Lanka have been lifted and they could now go fishing at night as well on 25 horse power mechanised boats.
Commander Samarasinghe said that as the Sri Lankan Navy enters into the 60th year, it has ‘silently improved and strengthened itself’ by acquiring sophisticated instruments not only from India, but also other countries. Navy is all set to buy six more Fast Attack Craft in January from Israel, he said.
Replying to the query about the fate of the Sea Tiger leader Soosai’s wife and other family members who were arrested in the last few days of the war with the LTTE while fleeing through the sea route, the Commander said that they were “safe” and that an “appropriate decision at the appropriate time will be taken by the appropriate authority”.
Soosai’ s family members who were attempting to escape disguised as refugees in the wee hours of May 15 in the seas of Mullaithivu were apprehended along with cash amounting to Sri Lanka Rs. 575,000 and jewellery weighing approximately 2 and ½ kg.
The Naval Commander said that after the military victory of the security forces over the LTTE in May this year “no activity by sea tigers have been sighted in the last seven months” in the region.