Sri Lanka will immediately release 51 Indian fishermen from its custody and has agreed to consider returning a large number of fishing boats while India will free three Lankan fishermen, as per outcome of a high- level meeting between the two countries on the vexed issue.
“As result of the ministerial meeting, Sri Lanka is releasing 51 Indian fishermen and we are releasing three Sri Lankan fishermen. Most significantly, Sri Lanka has also agreed to consider our request for release of fishing boats,” External Affairs Ministry Spokesperson Vikas Swarup said.
The decisions were taken at the India-Lanka Ministerial level talks on fishermen in Colombo. In the talks, both sides agreed to a set up Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) to expedite the release and handing over of fishermen in each other’s custody on completion of respective legal and procedural formalities.
Sri Lanka’s assurance to consider release of fishing boats is significant as a large number of such expensive vessels of Indian fishermen were in custody of the authorities of the island nation. Though Sri Lanka has periodically freed Indian fishermen caught by its naval authorities, their boats are often not returned. The Indian delegation was headed by Agriculture Minister Radha Mohan Singh while his Sri Lankan side was led by Fisheries Minister Mahinda Amaraweera.
Monday’s talks followed the first meeting of the Joint Working Group on fisheries last week. “As part of the Confidence Building Measures agreed to by both sides, it was decided to intensify cooperation in patrolling and to institute periodic interaction between the Coast Guard of the two countries,” a joint press communique said.