NEW DELHI: In what could turn into a flashpoint between the two countries, India on Tuesday expressed deep concern over the killing of one of its fishermen allegedly by the Sri Lankan Navy, an accusation denied by Sri Lanka.
The 22-year-old fisherman from Tamil Nadu was allegedly shot dead a little short of Kutchatheevu Island that was ceded by India to the Island nation in 1974 in a bilateral pact. The Indian High Commission in Colombo has raised the matter with the Sri Lankan Prime Minister. The Indian government has been apprised that the Sri Lankan Navy will be probing the matter.
"Government of India is deeply concerned at the killing of an Indian fisherman. Our High Commissioner to Sri Lanka has taken up the matter with the Prime Minister of Sri Lanka," the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) Spokesperson Gopal Baglay said.
Britso, hailing from Tamil Nadu was shot dead near the Palk Strait on Monday. The Sri Lankan navy initially denied that it fired at the Indian fishermen contending that its mandate was only to seize boats and arrest the Indian fishermen. However, it has promised a thorough investigation into the matter.
The relation between two countries have been tense for a long time as in the past as well there has been several alleged incidents of Sri Lankan Navy personnel firing at Indian fishermen fishing in the Palk Strait and seizing their boats. The Palk Strait, is 137 km long separating northern Sri Lanka from the state of Tamil Nadu. The strait has been a rich fishing ground for the fishermen from both the countries. According to estimates, there were 262,562 fishermen in the five Indian districts bordering Palk Strait and 119,000 on the three district on Sri Lankan side.
Fishing is the economic mainstay of northern Sri Lanka and the Sri Lankan fishermen have been demanding their Indian counterparts to stop bottom-trawling that they content has been damaging the marine ecosystem. Since 2014 Sri Lanka Navy has seized more than 100 fishing trawlers; while they have released the Indian fishermen, they refuse to release the trawlers.
The two countries had formed a Joint Working Group to resolve the issues. The first meeting was on January 2. The island nation has been particularly against the demands for relaxation of norms for fishermen from Tamil Nadu to use fishing trawlers.