In an apparent turf war, Fisheries Minister Dr Rajitha Senaratne trashed Foreign Minister Dr G L Peiris’ alleged claim that his “personal efforts” were responsible for India and Lanka deciding to release all fishermen in each other’s custody last month.
“Let Dr Peiris tackle bigger problems like the one Lanka is facing in Geneva (the US-sponsored resolution against Sri Lanka on war crimes at the United Nations Human Rights Council) and leave the fisheries issue to me,” Senaratne retorted when, at a press conference here on February 5, a reporter asked him for his reaction to reports of Peiris’ claim.
Senaratne said that contrary to Peiris’ “claim”, it was he who had brought about the release of all fishermen through constant formal interactions with the Government of India and informal interactions with representatives of Tamil Nadu Chief Minister J Jayalalithaa and DMK chief M Karunanidhi.
A lot of backroom efforts had gone into the making of the path-breaking decision, he explained.
According to Senaratne, Peiris had told him that for the sake of getting India’s goodwill, Lanka should release Indian fishermen unilaterally, and that President Mahinda Rajapaksa had told him that he approved of it.
However, when Senaratne asked the President for confirmation, the President flatly denied having said anything of that sort to Peiris.
It now turns out that Peiris had never claimed it was his personal influence which played a critical role in the release. It was Indian Foreign Minister Salman Khurshid who had attributed the release to Peiris’ “personal efforts”.
The news report alluded to by the questioner at the press conference here on February 5 did not say Peiris made such a claim.
It said that it was Salman Khurshid who had told Peiris at a meeting in Delhi on January 30, that he was thankful to him for his “personal efforts” in ensuring the release of Indian fishermen.
The Lankan press release on the Khurshid-Peiris meeting did not even mention the fishing issue.