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Criticises arrest of 140 fishermen; writes to PM to take strong diplomatic initiative

GRIEF-STRICKEN: A sobbing relative at Jegadapattinam in Pudukottai district on Thursday.
GRIEF-STRICKEN: A sobbing relative at Jegadapattinam in Pudukottai district on Thursday.

Accusing the Sri Lankan Navy of responsible for the arrest of 140 Tamil Nadu fishermen in 24 hours, Chief Minister Jayalalithaa on Thursday urged Prime Minister to take an “immediate strong diplomatic initiative, including intervention at the highest level.”

In her letter to Dr. Singh, the Chief Minister said Sri Lankan High Commissioner in New Delhi should be summoned to the Ministry of External Affairs and our strong protest lodged. She wanted the Prime Minister to take up the issue personally with Sri Lankan President without any further delay.

Ms. Jayalalithaa said that the failure to take immediate action would be disastrous to the fishermen in Tamil Nadu. It would also lead to socio-economic tensions with a potential to snowball into a major law and order and security issue, she warned.

Referring to the alleged incident of arrest of fishermen on Wednesday, the Chief Minister said the Sri Lankan Navy had tried to abduct and apprehend 47 boats with close to 325 fishermen from Nagapattinam who were fishing off Akkaraipettai .

“Had it not been for the fishermen who acted with restraint and avoided a direct conflict with the heavily armed Sri Lankan Navy personnel, many innocent lives could have been lost.” One hundred and ten fishermen on 15 boats “quietly surrendered” to the Sri Lankan Navy, while 32 boats with 215 fishermen turned back, she stated.

Pudkottai fishermen arrested

In the early hours of Thursday, the Sri Lankan Navy apprehended 30 fishermen on 8 boats who set out for fishing from the Jegadapattinam fishing base of Pudukkottai district.

Terming the two incidents “the largest and most outrageous acts of mass abduction of our fishermen by the Sri Lankan Navy,” she said such “brazen and near warlike acts” could not have been carried out without the tacit approval of the Sri Lankan government. “India’s prestige and image has suffered grievous damage. The entire fishing community in Tamil Nadu has lost its faith in the ability of the Government of India to protect the lives and livelihood of innocent fishermen in the high seas.”

Apart from the 140 fishermen, she reminded Dr. Singh of 69 fishermen from the State were languishing in Sri Lankan jails and their 47 boats with equipment were in Sri Lankan custody.

While urging the Prime Minister to immediately bestow the much-needed attention on this extremely volatile, emotive and sensitive issue, she said the Centre should not allow this to fester anymore through continued inaction or through a weak-kneed and timid approach towards the Sri Lankan regime which continued to perpetrate outrage upon innocent fishermen from Tamil Nadu pursuing their livelihood.

TNCC reaction

Tamil Nadu Congress Committee president B.S. Gnanadesikan wanted the State government to fix a date for a meeting between the fishermen of Tamil Nadu and their Sri Lankan counterpart. He also urged the Centre to take steps for the immediate release of the abducted fishermen from Tamil Nadu and their boats.

Mr. Gnanadesikan said that he had taken up with External Affairs Ministry the issue of securing release of five fishermen from Rameswaram, who had been languishing in Sri Lankan jail for the last two years.

“Talks will help to find solution”

Ramanathapuram Special Correspondent writes:

As fishermen were forced to cross the International Maritime Boundary Line (IMBL) to fish in Sri Lankan waters for their livelihood, a dialogue between fishermen of the two countries would help in finding a solution to the fishermen issue, Director General of Indian Coast Guard (ICG) Vice-Admiral Anurag G. Thapliyal said on Thursday.

“Two sides (fishermen of Tamil Nadu and Sri Lanka) have to talk and work out something which is acceptable to both the sides,” he told reporters, after inaugurating an administrative block of the Mandapam station of ICG.

After the Centre’s ratification of the IMBL, it would not be appropriate for fishermen or the Navy or the ICG to cross the IMBL, he said. It was part of the job of the ICG to impress upon the fishermen not to cross the IMBL, while venturing into sea for fishing.

This year, the ICG had rescued about 650 fishermen, when they were in distress while fishing.

“Prime Minister should take up the issue personally with Sri Lankan President without any further delay’’

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