Rao here to sort out row over fishing

By Satarupa Bhattacharjya

India’s Foreign Secretary Nirupama Rao is expected to meet Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa tomorrow to convey New Delhi’s concerns about the killing of two Indian fishermen allegedly by the Sri Lankan Navy in the shallow waters between the two countries.

Ms. Rao who visited Sri Lanka barely two months ago is being sent by Indian Foreign Minister S.M. Krishna to resolve the contentious issue, which might become a political flashpoint between New Delhi and Colombo, ahead of assembly elections in Tamil Nadu in April.

External Affairs Minister G L Peiris is expected to be present at tomor row’s meeting where the Indian side may call for the reactivation of the joint working group on fishing. This had been set up following the “practical arrangements” reached between the two governments in 2008.

According to diplomatic sources, activating the joint working group would at least give fishermen from both countries an official platform to present their grievances. The group never met since its formation, the sources said.

“The October 2008 understanding reached between the two governments must be scrupulously adhered to in letter and spirit,” India’s External Affairs Ministry said in a statement on January 23.

Earlier that day, a fisherman from Tamil Nadu’s Pushpavanam area was gruesomely killed, allegedly by Sri Lankan Navy personnel while he was fishing. Another Indian fisherman was shot dead allegedly by Sri Lankan Navy personnel in the waters between Jagadapattinnam and Pudukottai on Januray 12.

Following the first incident, New Delhi had requested President Rajapaksa to conduct an inquiry. The Sri Lankan Navy denied any involvement. Last week’s incident occurred at a time when President Rajapaksa was on a private visit to the US.

“We are not aware of the presence of our men or vessels in the vicinity of the incident,” Navy spokesman Athula Senarath said.

According to a statement issued by Sri Lanka’s External Affairs Ministry on January 24, “there were no Sri Lanka Navy vessels in the vicinity of the locations, where the incidents are alleged to have occurred.”
The statement however added: “The Government of Sri Lanka is accordingly most anxious to ascertain the facts behind the alleged incidents, so that any perpetrators are brought to account.”

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