Attack on Indian fishermen
Navy cleared

By Vindya Amaranayake
Foreign Ministry Secretary Palitha Kohona said yesterday that the Indian Navy has agreed with the Sri Lanka Navy’s stance on what led to the deaths of four Indian fishermen last Thursday.
Initial reports in India had said that the fishermen had died due to firing from the Sri Lanka Navy, statement which the Sri Lankan authorities strongly object to.
India’s Chief of the Naval Staff Admiral Sureesh Mehta was quoted by The Hindu as saying that they did not rule out the involvement of the LTTE in the incident of firing at Indian fishermen in order to create misunderstanding between the two countries.
Basing his views on assurances given by the Sri Lankan Navy Chief, Admiral Mehta had said the purpose could be to create a rift between the two countries.
“I had personally spoken to the chief of the Sri Lankan Navy five days back [following another incident of firing on Indian fishermen] and he assured me that his men had no intention of harassing fishermen in this manner. The Sri Lankan Navy has also issued strict instructions asking its personnel not to open fire on Indian fishermen who had strayed into Lankan waters,” he told journalists on Friday.
At a recent meeting between top officers from the Sri Lankan security establishment and the Indian High Commission in Colombo, the Sri Lankan Navy chief had shown maps to prove that his ships were nowhere in the vicinity when incidents of firing on Indian fishermen took place.
“It could be a tactic by the LTTE to create a rift,” he observed. The navy chief also regretted that the State Government was not doing enough to warn fishermen about the perils of entering Sri Lankan waters at a time when conflict was raging in and around the island nation. “There are some systems that should have been put in place.”
With about 3,000 boats crossing into the international waters everyday, Admiral Mehta wanted the boats to carry some kind of instrument to identify the position of the boats so that the Indian authorities could be aware of their whereabouts and could alert the forces of the other side in case they inadvertently crossed over into the waters controlled by Sri Lanka.
Meanwhile Dr. Kohona, who was on a visit to New Delhi to attend SAARC Foreign Secretaries meeting has placed the SL Navy version of the incident before the Indian Central Government.
After considering the facts, the Indian Government and the navy have cleared the Sri Lanka Navy of the charge.
Indian media initially reported that the incident took place off Kalpittiya, 80 nautical miles north of Colombo. However, it was later realised that the incident had occurred in the Indian waters, 30-40 miles south of Kanyakumari.
With the initial reports there were varying responses emanating especially from Tamil Nadu. It was reported that Chief Minister had expressed his condemnation over the incident and had hoped the Central Government would react sternly.
Subsequently, the Sri Lanka Navy issued a statement to the effect that the fleet units of Sri Lanka Navy do not fire at fishermen and instructions have been issued to those units to adhere to the Standing Operational Procedures when dealing with fishermen.
On the other hand, the surviving injured fishermen have accounted that the men on the boat who fired at them were not wearing any uniform, therefore the identity was not definite.
The search for the trawler that the fishermen have said they were fired from continues.
However, Kohona is of the view that these reports were issued with the expectation of straining the relationship between the two countries prior to President Mahinda Rajapaksa’s visit to India to attend the SAARC summit.
Kohona added that despite these occurrences, the diplomatic relations between India and Sri Lanka remain friendly and strong as ever.