COLOMBO: The Sri Lankan government on Sunday announced the decision to release 16 Tamil Nadu fishermen as a goodwill gesture ahead of Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe’s visit to New Delhi beginning on Monday.
A statement issued by the Prime Minister’s office said the fishermen were being released both as a humanitarian gesture and as a symbol of friendship between Sri Lanka and India. The fishermen, who were taken into custody last week, were being released considering their family background and the health problems some of them were facing, the statement said. It also acknowledged that a request for their release had been made by the fishermen’s associations of Rameswaram.
Stressing the importance of India for Wickremesinghe, the Prime Minister’s office said that he had always visited India first after assuming office as PM.
At Delhi, Wickremesinghe would have talks on all bilateral issues with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Foreign Minister Sushma Swaraj and other leaders. He would also call on President Pranab Mukherjee.
Participating in the talks will be Foreign Minister Mangala Samaraweera, International Trade Minister Malik Samarawickrema and Sri Lanka’s new High Commissioner to India, Asela Weerakoon. The inclusion of Samarawickrema in the delegation indicates that there may be some exploratory discussions on India’s proposal to enter into a Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement (CEPA) with Lanka.
Wickremesinghe would elicit an assurance from Modi that India would strongly back Lanka at the September session of the UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC) in Geneva where it faced war crimes charges. New Delhi was expected to give this assurance after eliciting a promise that Lanka would make concrete moves for ethnic reconciliation.