India and Sri Lanka on Wednesday decided to immediately free all fishermen in their custody and release their vessels. Those accused of crimes other than crossing the international maritime boundary line will, however, be tried by the respective courts in Sri Lanka and India, said official sources in the Ministry of External Affairs.
The two sides have already begun releasing the fishermen. On Tuesday, both released 52 fishermen each. They are to be repatriated on Thursday. The release of the remaining fishermen in jails on both sides could begin from Thursday to set the stage for a meeting by a newly formed six-member joint committee to resolve other fishing related issues.
The initiatives were decided during a meeting between Agriculture Minister Sharad Pawar and Sri Lankan Minister of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources Rajitha Senaratne.
Both governments have agreed that 160 Sri Lankan fishermen and 236 Indian could be set free immediately.
The positive outcome at the meeting comes at a time when India and Sri Lanka are engaged on several other fronts to improve bilateral ties. Ranil Wickremsinghe, leader of Sri Lanka’s main Opposition, United National Party (UNP), is already here for consultations. Commerce Secretary Anura Siriwardena will be in the Capital this week and Finance Secretary P.B. Jayasundera next week.
They will be followed by Foreign Minister G.L. Peiris, who will be here primarily to meet diplomats concurrently accredited to Colombo. He will also hold talks with External Affairs Minister Salman Khurshid on all aspects of bilateral ties. Discussions could include a long-term solution to the fishermen’s problems, especially as representatives of Indian and Sri Lankan fishermen would have met by the time Mr. Peiris arrives here, and may have finalised some of their own proposals.