President Mahinda Rajapaksa on Sunday ordered the release of five Indian fishermen in custody in Colombo as a “goodwill gesture” that comes a day before he leaves to India.
On Monday, he will attend the ceremony where BJP leader Narendra Modi’ will be sworn in as Prime Minister of India.
Unlike the earlier batch of fishermen that he released soon after India’s abstention at the Human Rights Council in March -- who were arrested on charges of illegal fishing -- the five who are to be released now were arrested in November 2011 for allegedly smuggling narcotic drugs into Sri Lanka. At present there are no Indian fishermen in Sri Lankan prisons facing charges of trespassing, but there are six others arrested at different points in the last two years on charges of smuggling drugs, according to officials at the Indian High Commission here.
The Sri Lankan government has been upbeat about the regime change in India – President Rajapaksa was among the first leaders to congratulate Mr. Modi, and also to confirm his participation at the swearing in ceremony that Sri Lankan government sources termed a virtual “SAARC summit”.
The President’s delegation includes Foreign Minister G.L. Peiris, Monitoring MP for the Ministry of External Affairs Sajin Vass Gunawardena, Minister Arumugam Thondaman representing Central Province Tamils of recent Indian origin and the Mayor of Jaffna Yogeswari Patkunarajah. President Rajapaksa had invited Northern Province Chief Minister C.V. Wigneswaran, but he declined to go as he did not wish to “facilitate tokenism”.
The delegation leaves to New Delhi Monday morning in a special aircraft. Following the swearing in ceremony, the President and Minister G.L. Peiris will attend the reception hosted by President Pranab Mukherjee for the visiting delegates.
On Tuesday, President Rajapaksa will hold bilateral meetings with Mr. Modi, where Indo-Lanka relations are to be discussed broadly. The 13th Amendment -- which followed the Indo-Lanka accord of 1987 -- and the fisheries conflict between the two countries are likely to be discussed, according to senior officials. He would return to Colombo Tuesday evening, sources said.
The release of the five fishermen, however, does not pertain to the Palk Bay conflict that poses a major challenge to bilateral relations between the neighbours. The recent discussions between fishermen of both countries -- the second round of talks was held in Colombo on May 12 -- ended in a deadlock leaving fishermen of both sides rather disappointed.