Sri Lanka
Navy not targeting Indian fishermen: Sri Lanka
Mar 11, 2007 - 7:02:10 PM

Colombo, March 11 - Sri Lanka Sunday denied that its navy was targeting Indian fishermen, saying the media reports could be 'instigated' by Tamil Tiger rebels with 'vested interests' and offered to cooperate with New Delhi to probe the allegations.

'Categorically' stating that the Sri Lankan Navy 'has no involvement whatsoever with any of the reported incidents', a foreign ministry statement issued here said: 'The - would not under any circumstances infringe into Indian territorial waters by crossing the IMBL -.

'Moreover, the navy equips its vessels with the most up-to-date navigational aids, thereby absolutely precluding erroneous and inadvertent crossing,' the statement maintained.

'An immediate and thorough inquiry' had been conducted on the reports and the findings are that 'no vessel of the Sri Lanka Navy was operated in the vicinity of Kachchativu Island' at the time the alleged incident occurred Saturday, the statement pointed out.

An Indian fisherman was killed and three were injured off the Ramanathapuram coast across the Palk Strait when their boat was reportedly fired upon by Sri Lankan navy patrol early Saturday, according to reports. The navy fired at the boat near Katchchathivu in Indian waters, said the fishermen from the area.

Angered by the attack, fishermen blocked roads and halted traffic for nearly one hour in protest.

This is the second time in three weeks that Indian fishermen have reportedly been targeted by the Sri Lankan Navy.

The Sri Lankan government, the ministry contended, 'has specifically instructed' the navy 'not to use strict and harsh measures to prevent illegal fishing in Sri Lankan waters by Indian fishermen'.

'Therefore, Sri Lanka Navy always strives to help the Indian fishermen when in time of need despite the fact that they enter Sri Lankan waters for poaching.

'Sri Lanka Navy at time renders necessary assistance for recovery and repairs to their vessels where necessary, provides food and water and escorts them to the IMBL once the bona fides are established,' the statement said.

In this context, it pointed to assistance that had been provided to an Indian trawler off Karainagar on Oct 25, 2006 and to another Indian fishing boat off Thondimannar a month later.

Thus, 'it is reasonable to assume that the reports are being instigated by the LTTE - with a vested interest in attempting to damage the strong bilateral relationship between India and Sri Lanka.

'It is widely known that the LTTE has been engaged in the practice of attacking Indian fishing trawlers with the sole aim of discrediting the Sri Lanka Navy,' the statement maintained.

Last November, an Indian fisherman the Sri Lanka Navy had rescued had claimed that they were 'forced frequently by the LTTE to engage in arms smuggling while fishing in Indian waters', the statement said.

Noting that Colombo had 'proposed' to India its 'willingness to work out an arrangement to jointly monitor the IMBL on either side' as well as share information on the movement of Indian fishermen, it said the government 'has also indicated its willingness to send a team to India to cooperate in the investigation of the allegations raised by Indian fishermen'.

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