COLOMBO/ NEW DELHI:Sri Lankan Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe again tried to step on India’s toes by saying his country’s navy has the right to shoot anyone who intrudes into its territorial waters. The statement came just two days after Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visit to the country, when both sides asserted that the fishermen issue was a humanitarian one and must not be looked at from a territorial prism.
“The Lankan navy has the right to shoot in any part of the country if anyone enters its territorial waters, this is nothing new,” Wickremesinghe told a TV channel on Monday. He said pretty much the same thing ahead of Modi’s visit to a Tamil news channel: “If someone tries to break into my house, I can shoot. If he gets killed... Law allows me to do that.”
Wickremesinghe’s statement faced opposition from within as Lankan Cabinet spokesperson Dr Rajitha Senaratne said he does not approve of it. Asked why he should repeat the threat, that too within two days of Modi’s visit, Senaratne said: “Perhaps he wants to curry favour with the North Lankan fishermen who are suffering because of the intrusions from India. This may also be part of his fight against Northern Province CM C V Wigneswaran. He may want to wean the fishermen away from Wigneswaran’s party (TNA).” Lanka is set to go for snap elections in June. Senaratne added: “It is a sad statement. It is a humanitarian issue. The blame for poaching cannot be put on the poor fishermen. The blame should be put at the door of the trawler owners who force the fishermen to cross the boundary.”
S Sritharan, Tamil National Alliance MP for Kilinochchi, said: “This is an inhuman statement. We’ve no right to shoot any fishermen, whether Indian, Chinese or Lankan. The statement only brings out Ranil’s Sinhalese-Buddhist chauvinism.” “Lanka is complaining about Indian fishermen robbing the marine resources of the Jaffna Tamil fishermen by indulging in bottom trawling, but Sinhalese fishermen from South Lanka are indulging in the same kind of trawling and nobody raises it.” “The Indo-Lanka fishing issue should be solved only by talks,” he added.
Wigneswaran said: “Wickremesinghe’s statement is unacceptable. Indian fishermen should stop bottom trawling here and shift to Bay of Bengal or Arabian Sea. But Indian and Lankan fishermen should be able to jointly fish in Palk Strait if they don’t use methods like bottom trawling.”
However, there was no official reaction from South Block on Wickremesinghe’s latest provocative statement.