Members of various fishermen associations on Wednesday launched a relay fast at Thangachimadam near here, pressing for a charter of demands which included the release of all fishermen from Tamil Nadu lodged in Sri Lankan prisons.

The fishermen, who launched an indefinite strike on November 6 protesting against the continuing arrests of the fishermen by Sri Lankan Navy on the charge of straying into their waters, intensified their stir by launching the relay fast. About 250 people, including leaders of 11 fishermen associations, and the family members of the arrested fishermen, observed the fast on Wednesday.

The protest, inaugurated by Thangachimadam panchayat president V.K. Gnanaseelan, is expected to continue for the next two days. “We are observing the fast demanding the release of the Tamil Nadu fishermen incarcerated in the Sri Lankan prisons along with their boats, and also urging the State government to release the Sri Lankan fishermen lodged in various prisons here,” said P. Sesu Raja, district secretary, Tamil Nadu Coastal Mechanised Boat Fishermen Association.

He said more than 80 Tamil Nadu fishermen were in Sri Lankan prisons and about 40 trawlers were detained in the island nation. Among the imprisoned fishermen were the five, who were arrested two years ago on alleged charges of drug peddling. The protesters also demanded the release of Lankan fishermen held in prisons in Andhra Pradesh and their boats, he said. Mr. Sesu Raja said the fishermen reiterated their demand that the Central and State governments arrange a meeting between the fishermen of the two countries and help them find a lasting solution to the problems faced by them through dialogue. “We have been traditionally fishing in the Palk Strait and the governments should protect our traditional fishing rights and livelihood,” he told The Hindu.

N.J. Bose, president of the Rameswaram Port Mechanised Boats Fishermen Association, said External Affairs Minister Salman Khurshid, who was visiting Colombo to participate in CHOGM should utilise the opportunity to take up the issue with the Sri Lankan government and secure the release of the fishermen. A. Simon, coordinator, Island Fishermen, Pamban, said fishermen in Pamban would abstain from fishing on Thursday and take part in the fast.

In a related development, Commodore Amar K. Mahadevan, Naval Officer-in-charge, Tamil Nadu and Puducherry, said there was not a single attack on Tamil Nadu fishermen in Indian waters. Complaints of fishermen that the Sri Lankan Navy personnel crossed the International Maritime Boundary Line and attacked them were investigated.

“We have unmanned aerial vehicles and sensors monitoring the Palk Bay …there was not a single instance of the Sri Lankan Navy crossing the IMBL. The Navy was working closely with the Indian Coast Guard to ensure that the fishermen were safe in Indian waters,” he told reporters on board INS Satpura on Wednesday. Commodore Mahadevan said fishermen issues were being discussed with the Sri Lankan Navy during regular interactions. Since the fishermen had GPS facility on boats they would know the location of the IMBL. “The possibility of external forces (attacking the fishermen) is also being looked into,” he said.

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