Sri Lankan Government in the soup over Indian fishermen deaths

By Siva Parameswaran

As condemnations rise across both sides of the Palk Straits over the alleged killing of three Indian fishermen and one Sri Lankan Tamil refugee by the Sri Lankan Navy in mid seas, India has strongly protested to Sri Lanka over the issue.

In a statement from the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA), Government of India termed the incident as shocking and warned “utmost efforts should be made to ensure that there is no recurrence”.

“Our strong protest in regard to this incident was conveyed by our High Commissioner to the Sri Lankan Foreign Minister today. A strong démarche was also made to the Sri Lankan Acting High Commissioner in New Delhi.”

Indian fishermen have urged the central government and the Tamil Nadu (TN) state government to file murder charges against the SL Navy for the alleged killings.

Political leaders cutting across party affiliations in TN expressed solidarity with the protesters in demanding the Indian PM to condemn Sri Lanka in the strongest terms.

Thousands of fishermen staged a protest near the coastal town of Rameswaram to condemn the the SL navy. They sought the immediate return of the four retrieved bodies of their colleagues and demanded adequate compensation for the four killed.

Committees appointed

Sri Lanka says that the Jaffna judicial medical officer had carried out the post-mortems inquest inquiry in the presence of the representatives of the consulate general office of India in Jaffna. However, the identities of the dead fishermen have not been confirmed yet, says the navy. Not
content with Sri Lankan investigations, TN fishermen urged credible autopsies in Tamil Nadu as well.

Sri Lanka Fisheries Minister Douglas Devananda described the deaths as an “unexpected accident”.

He has told journalists in Colombo that President Gotabaya Rajapaksa and he himself have appointed two committees to investigate the tragedy.

India’s foreign ministry has also expressed its deep anguish at the loss of lives and have emphasized the need to deal with issues pertaining to fishermen in a humanitarian manner.

“Existing understandings between the two governments in that regard must be strictly observed,” said a statement from Delhi.

Sri Lankan Tamil refugee

Lawyers are divided over the prospect of handing over the body of the Sri Lankan national back to India. A senior Indian lawyer told JDS over the phone that Sri Lanka may invoke the ‘rules of sovereignty’ to retain the body of Sam Nesaperumal- a native of Jaffna-to be dealt locally. He has been living for a considerable time in the ‘Mandapam’ refugee camp for Sri Lanka war victims in India.

Another senior lawyer says that India could demand the body back under ‘the UN refugee conventions’ as he is legally registered as a refugee in Tamil Nadu.

Meanwhile, Tamil Nadu CM Edappadi Palaniswami announced a compensation of one million Indian Rupees ($ 13,000 approx) to each of the families along with a government job for one individual from each family. It’s not clear how a Sri Lankan national’s family would be offered a government job, as Indian citizenship is a primary criterion for such a job.

The leader of the principal opposition party in TN, the Dravida Munnetra Kazagam (DMK), has urged the Indian PM to take up the issue of Tamil Nadu fishermen being continuously attacked by SL Navy with the Government of Sri Lanka.

Rameswaram fishermen leader Benciglas Jesuraja told JDS by phone that their protest would continue with the participation of all the fishermen along the entire coast of Tamil Nadu.

‘Deal issue legally’- TNA

The Tamil National Alliance (TNA) which has the largest number of Tamil MP’s in Sri Lanka has also strongly condemned the killing. Its' spokesperson and MP MA Sumanthiran said the SL Navy should stop the fishermen crossing the International Maritime Border Line (IMBL) at that point itself and even if they infiltrate it should be legally dealt with and not kill the innocent fishermen who venture into the seas for their livelihood. He also paid the party’s condolences to the bereaved families.

“The TNA will never accept the killing of the fishermen and we demand proper investigation into the incident by the Navy in bringing out the truth. Also, the death of a person from Jaffna who escaped to India to save his life in his native country and work with the local fishermen for his livelihood reflects the plight of our people”.



Journalists for Democracy in Sri Lanka

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