India to take up fishermen issue as Sri Lankan PM stokes row

Colombo/New Delhi, March 7:

India said on Saturday it will take up the fishermen’s issue during talks between External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj and her Sri Lankan counterpart, after Sri Lankan Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe justified taking strong action on intruding Indian fishermen.

India-Sri LankaSushma Swaraj, who is here to lay the ground for Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visit next week, is holding delegation level talks on Saturday with her Sri Lankan counterpart Mangala Samaraweera.

She is expected to raise the issue of fishermen, including of Indian fishermen being arrested for straying into Sri Lankan waters.

Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe has kicked up a controversy by justifying the Sri Lankan Navy’s actions against Indian fishermen saying that the law has a provision to “shoot” anyone trying to “break into my house”.

In an interview to Thanthi TV, a Chennai based news channel, Wickremesinghe said his government was willing to make a ‘reasonable deal’ with India with respect to fishing rights.

“If someone tries to break into my house, I can shoot. If he gets killed…Law allows me to do that… On the fishermen issue, as far as I’m concerned, I have very very strong lines. These are our waters…Fishermen of Jaffna should be allowed to fish. We stopped them from fishing, which is why the Indian fishermen came in. They are willing to have a deal…Let’s have a reasonable deal… But not at the expense of the income of the Northern fishermen,” the Sri Lankan prime minister is quoted as saying.

He also said that Indian fishermen could not be allowed to trawl the seas in his country’s territorial waters.

“It’s an issue between Tamil Nadu fishermen and Sri Lankan fishermen… They have got to sit down and we have to work this out. There can be no bottom trawling. There can be no solution that permits the Indian fishermen to do bottom trawling. These are basically Sri Lanka waters… What would you have done if all our fishermen went into the Indian waters and started fishing there…? Now what you are claiming is, we want to come there, we want to fish in your water and we want to bottom trawl in your waters,” he said.

The Indian external affairs ministry spokesperson Syed Akbaruddin said that both sides would discuss the issue.

“This is an ongoing dialogue between India and Sri Lanka; the external affairs minister will certainly take up this matter today both with her Sri Lankan counterpart and with the Sri Lankan PM. We want to ensure both India and Sri Lanka are able to work together,” he said.

Sushma Swaraj met Sri Lankan President Maithripala Sirisena on Friday, who assured her that his government is committed to strengthening ties with India. IANS

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