As many as 37 Indian fishermen were arrested by the Sri Lankan Navy Monday night, on charges of poaching in Sri Lankan waters.
Navy spokesman Kosala Warnakulasuriya told The Hindu on Tuesday that a total of 22 fishermen were arrested off Thalaimannar and 15, off Delft Islands. Navy personnel also seized nine trawlers used by the Indian fishermen.
The arrests come about a week after External Affairs Minister Salman Khurshid visited Sri Lanka. During the visit, he assured the Sri Lankan government that India would soon facilitate talks between representatives of fishermen from both countries in order to find a sustainable solution to the issue of poaching.
Walter Scott writes from Ramanathapuram:
Twenty-two of those arrested are from Rameswaram. The other 15 from Jagadapattinam in Pudukkottai district. The fishermen from Rameswaram set out from the fishing jetty there in five boats, while the group from Jagapattinam used four boats. They were fishing in the high seas on Monday night when Sri Lankan navy from Talaimannar and Karainagar, near Jaffna, arrested them.
Giving details of the arrest, U.Arulanandham, President of the Alliance for the Release of Innocent Fishermen (ARIF) said the Mannar District court has remanded the Rameswaram fishermen to judicial custody till October 25 and the Kayts court remanded the Jagadapattinam fishermen also till October 25.
The Rameswaram fishermen were lodged in Vavuniya prison, while the Jagadapattinam fishermen were lodged in Jaffna prison, he said. With this, the number of Tamil Nadu fishermen lodged in Sri Lankan prisons rose to 60, he said adding the Lankan authorities have also detained 39 boats, including four boats of Karaikal fishermen. Besides five fishermen were languishing in a Lankan jail for more than a year after they were falsely implicated in a drug peddling case, he said.
Condemning the arrest, he said there was a ray of hope among the fishing community when the Lankan government had ordered the release of 20 Rameswaram fishermen along with their four trawlers on October 7, coinciding with the visit of Mr. Khurshid but "it now looks an eye wash."
In the run-up to the Minister's visit, reports had suggested that he would take up the fishermen issue and pave the way for their early release, but there has been no change in the Sri Lankan government’s attitude, giving rise to doubts whether the Minister raised the issue he said.
Expressing dismay, P Sesu Raja, district secretary, Tamil Nadu Coastal Mechanised Boat Fishermen’s Association, said the arrest of fishermen seemed to be a revenge for India arresting 26 Sri Lankan fishermen on October 10 and blamed the two governments for ‘ruining’ the livelihood of the hapless fishermen of the two countries. A lasting solution could be found only if the two governments arranged a meeting between the fishermen of the two countries, he said.
A Pudukottai report said the fishermen from Jagadapattinam were scheduled to return home on Tuesday morning, but relatives found that they did not return as they had been detained.