Mannar District Court orders their release; likely to be repatriated in a day or two

In a sudden development, the Mannar District Court in Sri Lanka on Tuesday ordered the release of 24 Rameswaram fishermen, who had been lodged in a prison there after they were arrested by the Lankan Navy on June 5 on the charge of illegal fishing in their waters.

A Fisheries Department official, quoting Intelligence reports, said the fishermen were produced before the court on Tuesday afternoon and set free.

They had been earlier remanded till July 4.

The official, however, had no information about when the released fishermen would be repatriated or about the fate of 33 others still in Lankan prison.

U. Arulanandham, president of the Alliance for the Release of Innocent Fishermen (ARIF), who is in Negombo in Sri Lanka, told The Hindu over telephone that the Mannar court ordered the release following an order from the Sri Lankan Attorney General.

The fishermen are presently with the Lankan Navy in Thalaimannar and likely to be repatriated in a day or two with their four trawlers, he said. Informed sources said 25 other fishermen arrested by the Lankan Navy on June 6, when they were allegedly fishing in the Sri Lankan waters near Kayts Island, are likely to be released on Wednesday and the eight others arrested on June 15 might be released in couple of days.

The Mandapam station of the Indian Coast Guard (ICG) did not receive any information from the Lankan Navy about the repatriation of the 24 fishermen till late on Tuesday evening, sources said. Expressing happiness over the release of the fishermen, Mr P. Sesu Raja, district secretary, Tamil Nadu Coastal Mechanised Boat Fishermen Association, said the Lankan authorities should release the other fishermen as well.

He said the Centre should hold talks with Sri Lankan Economic Development Minister Basil Rajapaksa, who is visiting New Delhi, and find a lasting solution to the issue. Both Indian and Sri Lankan fishermen could be allowed to fish in each other’s waters taking turns, he suggested.

He said the Lankan Minister had given the Rameswaram fishermen an appointment to meet him in Delhi on Friday and a group of fishermen might meet him.

In a related development, the Indian Coast Guard was taking 10 Sri Lankan fishermen for repatriation on Tuesday after their release, sources said here.

They were arrested two weeks ago, when they were found fishing in the Indian waters off Chennai and their two trawlers were seized.

Indian Coast Guard Vessel Rajshree left Chennai at 11 am, escorting the fishermen in their two trawlers.

The fishermen would be handed over to the Lankan Navy at the International Maritime Border Line (IMBL) at 8 am on Thursday, the sources said.