India hands over 16 fishermen to Sri Lanka

Narendra Rajapaksa, a senior Fisheries Ministry official, said the 16 fishermen on three trawlers were handed over to the Sri Lankan Navy. Their jail terms ended on January 31, 2011.

India had earlier released94 Sri Lankan fishermen and 21 boats.
Fishermen of both nations straying into each other's waters have been a major issue between the two South Asian neighbours.

India had in January accused the Sri Lankan Navy of firing at Indian fishermen and killing two of them in two separate incidents.

Meanwhile, President Mahinda Rajapaksa dismissed suggestions that Sri Lanka and India are currently involved in a spat over the fishermen issue.

In an interaction with the media yesterday, Rajapaksa described the issue as a humanitarian problem.

"The poor fishermen chase after their catch, they have no idea of maritime boundaries," Rajapaksa said and expressed that hope that the issue can be amicably resolved.
He said the forthcoming meeting of the Indo-Lanka Joint Working Group would discuss the issue.

"This is not a problem which came up recently. Our fishermen are now able to do deep sea fishing which they couldn't do during the war time (with LTTE). So it is now being seen as it has become a new problem," the President said

He also dismissed reports that Sri Lankan Navy personnel were firing at Indian fishermen.

He said the accusations were "baseless" as he was personally aware that the Navy had not fired at the Indian fishermen.

The Sri Lankan president said that meetings between fishermen associations of the two countries would be facilitated soon.

"This is part of the government strategy to end the problem," the president said, adding that no ad-hoc solutions would work.

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