Issue of recent attacks on Indian fishermen by the Sri Lankan Navy discussed

India on Tuesday said it was closely monitoring China's intention as it was showing “more than the normal interest” in the Indian Ocean affairs.

“The Government of India has come to realise that China has been showing more than the normal interest in the Indian Ocean affairs. So we are closely monitoring the Chinese intentions,” External Affairs Minister S.M. Krishna said in the Lok Sabha.

Responding to queries during a call-attention motion on “The situation arising out of the recent attacks on Indian fishermen by the Sri Lankan Navy,” Mr. Krishna assured the House that “appropriate action and measures” would be taken to safeguard the country's territorial integrity and the welfare of its fishermen.

Initiating the motion, Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam leader T.R. Baalu said that when the Indo-Sri Lanka agreement was signed on the Katchatheevu islands in 1974, the then External Affairs Minister, Swaran Singh, had said that fishing and navigation rights had been safeguarded for the future. Under the agreement on the island, which falls in the Sri Lankan territory, Indian fishermen can rest and dry their nets during fishing in international waters.

Mr. Baalu asked the Centre to revisit the agreement and increase patrolling in the waters to protect the fishermen.

Mr. Krishna, however, ruled it out, saying: “We cannot go back on the solemn agreement between two governments.” India and Sri Lanka were discussing, through the Joint Working Group — constituted to deal with issues related to fishermen and to work out bilateral institutional arrangements for ensuring the safety and security of the fishermen of both countries — and addressing such issues in a humane and practical way.

Sri Lanka is a friendly country, an aspect that is needed to be kept in mind, the Minister said, adding that Foreign Secretary Nirupama Rao is currently in Colombo discussing such matters. Mr. Krishna said he was planning to travel to Colombo in October, when issues related to fishermen would be discussed further.

India had consistently taken up issues relating to incidents of firing on or apprehension of fishermen with the Sri Lankan government to ensure that its Navy acted with restraint and our fishermen were treated in a humane manner.

Unhappy over the reply, All-India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam members, led by M. Thambidurai, staged a walkout, while Mr. Baalu raised several other questions.

The Minister said that after the October 2008 understanding between the two countries on fishing arrangements, incidents of apprehension and firing on Indian fishermen in the waters between India and Sri Lanka had come down significantly.

In 2008, a total of 1,456 Indian fishermen were apprehended by the Sri Lankan Navy, while in 2009, the number had come down to 127 fishermen, and till July this year, only 26 fishermen were apprehended.

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