A Sri Lankan court has extended the remand of 19 Rameswaram fishermen by 15 days till April 11, which has come as a rude shock to the fishermen here.

N. J. Bose, president, Rameswaram Mechanised Boat Fishermen Association, said that the local fishermen were hopeful that the 19 fishermen, arrested on March 13 and remanded in judicial custody till March 28, would be set free when they were produced before the court on Thursday.

They were hopeful especially in the backdrop of the Tamil Nadu government ordering the release of 10 Sinhalese fishermen, arrested after March 13, in a gesture of goodwill, but the Sri Lankan authorities did not reciprocate the gesture.

Tthe Tamil Nadu government withdrew cases against five Sinhalese fishermen, who were arrested by the Tuticorin Marine police for fishing in Indian waters on March 18, expecting the Lankan authorities to reciprocate the gesture of goodwill. The fishermen were being repatriated by the Indian Coast Guard.

“We thought the Sri Lankan government will reciprocate the goodwill gesture, but it took a defiant stand, which deserves to be condemned,” U. Arulanandham, president of the Alliance for the Release of Innocent Fishermen (ARIF), said.

His inquiries revealed that the Sri Lankan authorities have taken this tough stand following the recent attacks on Buddhist monks in Thanjavur, but the innocent fishermen could not be punished for such political acts, he added.

Mr Arulanandham said the former Prime Minister A. B. Vajpayee and his then Sri Lankan counterpart Ranil Wickramasinghe had entered into an agreement in 2003 to treat fishermen from both countries humanely, but the pact was not being respected by the present Sri Lankan government.

Pointing out that most of the arrested fishermen, hailing from Thangachimadam and adjoining areas in Rameswaram island, are Christians, he said it was sad that these fishermen and their family members could not offer worship on Good Friday and celebrate Easter.

Mr Bose said leaders of 13 fishermen associations would meet on Friday and chalk out the future course of action. After holding a protest demonstration on March 22, the fishermen had announced that they would launch rail and road roko agitations if the fishermen were not released on March 28.

The Rameswaram fishermen were on strike since March 13 and more than 650 mechanised fishing boats remained anchored at the Rameswaram fishing jetty.

Three thousand fishermen who earn an average of Rs 1,500 per fishing day were jobless, Mr Bose said, adding that with each boat catering to the livelihood of 20 families, more than 65,000 people were suffering.

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