New Delhi, March 9 (IANS) India on Monday criticised Sri Lankan Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe for justifying the firing on fishermen from India and sought a “permanent solution” to the dragging row.
External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj told parliament that she was in Colombo when Wickremesinghe made the controversial remarks, days ahead of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visit to Sri Lanka.
“He said two things… one, that the Tamil fishermen released by the (Sri Lankan) president, he compared them with Italian marines (who shot dead two Indian fishermen). And the second, he justified the killing of Indian fishermen,” she said.
“My meeting with Wickremesinghe was already fixed, so I raised these two issues strongly with him.
“I told him the two cases you have compared are incomparable. I told them the Indian fishermen released went through the whole legal procedure. They were tried, they were punished.
“As far as the Italian marines (are) concerned, they are not allowing the legal process… He said (he) did not know these facts.”
Sushma Swaraj added: “I said if we justify firing, we will keep firing on each other.”
The external affairs minister said she reminded the Sri Lankan leaders that the Indian Coast Guard had a few days back arrested 19 Sri Lankan fishermen. “But we gave orders to release them.”
Sushma Swaraj said India wants a “permanent solution” to the dragging dispute involving fishermen from both countries who often enter the waters of each other’s country in search of marine life.
Indian fishermen find the Sri Lankan waters attractive as the marine life there is rich because of the long years of ban on fishing on account of the armed ethnic conflict that ended only in 2009.
When Wickremesinghe suggested deep sea fishing so that Indians remained within Indian waters, Sushma Swaraj sought “an interim arrangement” until that happened.
“That interim arrangement cannot be based on technicalities, it can only be on humanitarian ground.
“Fishermen of both sides must sit together and decide how to stop these arrests under an interim arrangement. That can only be the solution.”
In Chennai, DMK president M. Karunanidhi described Wickremesinghe’s comments as a snub to Prime Minister Modi, who is set to visit Colombo on March 13-14.
“It is condemnable,” the former Tamil Nadu chief minister said.
According to Karunanidhi, Modi should also urge the Sri Lankan government to let Tamils displaced by the years of conflict to return to their homes, demilitarize Tamil areas and devolve more powers to provinces.
India-Sri Lanka ties have been strained over the shooting of Indian fishermen by the Sri Lanka navy in the narrow sea which divides the two countries. The affected fishermen are from Tamil Nadu.