Sri Lanka’s President Maithripala Sirisena has dismissed the opposition’s claim that his government had given fishing rights to Indian fisherman, and stressed he had issued clear instruction to Sri Lankan navy to seize boats that violated country’s territorial waters.
“We have not allowed fishing in our waters for the Indians. I have given clear instructions to the navy to arrest boats or trawlers that violate our water limits,” Mr Sirisena said in a gathering of representatives of the fishing industry and various political organisations.
Representatives of the Nationals Freedom Front, which sits in the opposition, had accused the government for giving fishing rights to Indians in Sri Lankan waters as an appeasement policy. The Sirisena government is already under fire for moving too close to India, even at the cost of hampering relations with China, which has substantial investments in the country.
Responding to the allegations, Mr Sirisena said that during his February visit to India, he had discussed the issue at length and had pitched for an amicable solution. He mentioned that his government had asked the Indians to stop bottom trawling and urged the Tamil dominated Northern Provincial Council to play a constructive role in resolving the fisherman disputes, saying that they ought to exercise their legislative powers to tackle the issue and should consult with the Indian High Commissioner (Ambassador) in this regard.
The fisherman issue has been a thorny one in bilateral relations and while both sides have agreed to treating it as a priority humanitarian concern, not much progress has been made. In his visit last month to Sri Lanka, Mr. Modi urged the fishermen associations on either side to have a dialogue, which could then be taken up bilaterally at the ministerial level.
The Indian fishermen want fishing rights in the Palk Strait for 83 days per year for three years, with the assurance that they would fish five nautical miles off the Sri Lankan coast. Sri Lankan fishermen, however, are wary of the trawlers and mechanized fishing techniques which strip the ocean floor bare, damage their fishing nets and hamper their livelihoods.
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