It must be emphasized that it is the policy of Sri Lanka to treat any foreign fishermen found in our waters in a humanitarian manner, stated External Affairs Minister Prof G L Peiris issuing a statement in Parliament yesterday (24).
At the same time, we have made clear that the authorities have an obligation to prevent incursions by their fishermen across the Maritime Boundary, for illegal fishing, he emphasized.
He added that the Government has carried out the most diligent and meticulous examination into the reports of the deaths of the two Indian fishermen and stressed, ‘it is clear based on evidence that there were no Sri Lanka Navy vessels in the vicinity of the locations, where the incidents are alleged to have occurred’.
Minister Peiris also pointed out that Sri Lankan Northern fishermen who have traditionally fished in the Northern waters were restrained from doing so due to the conflict and that today, that situation is no more and they are looking forward to resuming their livelihoods.
Meanwhile, Indian Minister of External Affairs S.M. Krishna acknowledged that India needs to be conscious of the sensitivities on the Sri Lankan side and of the many Sri Lankan fishermen who have, after a long hiatus, started fishing in that area.
He added that both India and Sri Lanka have agreed that the Joint Working Group on Fisheries will meet in March this year.
Following is the full text of the statement by Minister G L Peiris
I wish to clarify the position with reference to the reported incidents involving Indian fishermen during the last few week. The first of these stemmed from reports that on January 12 and 23 two Indian fishermen lost their lives.
Subsequently, on February 15 and 16 several Indian fishermen were apprehended by Sri Lankans in our waters and handed over to the Police.
I would like to make it clear in this regard that Sri Lanka deeply values her close bilateral relationship with India. The Government has carried out the most diligent and meticulous examination into the reports of the deaths of the two fishermen. On the basis of the information that was made available, the Sri Lanka Navy was instructed by the Defence Ministry to carry out its own inquiry. The Navy has the facility of keeping track of the precise location of any of its vessels at any given time, especially when they happen to be deployed in the waters between India and Sri Lanka.
Based on the data recorded by these facilities, it is clear that there were no Sri Lanka Navy vessels in the vicinity of the locations, where the incidents are alleged to have occurred.
It must be emphasized that it is the policy of Sri Lanka to treat any foreign fishermen found in our waters in a humanitarian manner. The Government has given explicit directives that this policy must on all occasions be followed. At the same time, we must be particularly mindful of the difficulties faced by our own fishermen, including those of the fishing community in the Northern Province.
As we are all aware, the waters on our side of the International Maritime Boundary Line off our Northern and North Western shores, are very rich in marine resources. It is the Northern fishermen who have traditionally fished in these areas.
However, for several decades they were constrained from doing so, because we had due to security concerns during the time of the struggle against terrorism, to enforce a ban on fishing in those areas which were security sensitive at that time.
Today, that situation is no more and they are looking forward to resuming their livelihoods. However, they now have to face the problem of the illicit fishing carried out in these waters by fishermen from the other side of the Palk Straits. It is this regrettable situation that has led to the apprehension of the Indian fishermen.
The two Government are in close contact on this issue. During the Indian Foreign Secretary's visit to Colombo last month it was agreed that the Joint Working Group on Fisheries would meet soon. We stand by our commitment to the policy of humanitarian treatment. At the same time, we have made clear that the authorities do have an obligation to prevent incursions by their fishermen across the Maritime Boundary, for illegal fishing.
It is a matter for satisfaction that thanks to the immense fund of goodwill and understanding between Sri Lanka and India, this issue has been resolved amicably.