Sri Lanka’s Fishery Minister, and leader of the pro-government paramilitary Eelam People's Democratic Party (EPDP), Douglas Devananda has maintained that the only solution to fishery disputes will be the continued detention of Indian fishermen.
During an interview, he rejected claims that he would grant Indian fishermen permission to fish in Sri Lankan waters; attacked the Tamil National Alliance; and praised Sri Lanka’s President as a “true democratic leader” despite concerns over the deterioration of human rights in Sri Lanka.
Tamil Nadu fishermen
Following the deaths of 4 Tamil Nadu fishermen in Sri Lanka, India’s External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar condemned the actions of the Sri Lankan government declaring the actions “unacceptable”.
The four fishermen were reported missing on 19 January, only to be found four days later with the Sri Lankan Navy reporting them in the Palk Strait. DMK MP Tiruchi Siva has maintained that the Sri Lankan Navy brutally assaulted the fishermen leading to their deaths. All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK) leader, M. Thambidurai, stated in February that thus far 245 fishermen had been killed in Sri Lanka.
In his interview, Devananda claimed that as a diplomatic gesture 54 Indian fishermen were released from custody but warned that this would not happen again.
“If Indian fishermen enter our waters we will arrest. There is no doubt in that. I have informed the navy”.
He further claimed to have bargained with India for the release of southern fishermen and stated that fishing was temporarily suspended as it was currently the breeding period for the fish.
Eelam Tamil fishermen
In his interview he further attacked Tamil political leaders, claiming that they did not wish to antagonise India and were against him “working for the Tamil people”.
Whilst he claimed that “no decision will be taken without consulting” the Tamil public, Sri Lanka’s army has continuously posed a serious issue to the livelihood of Tamil farmers across the North-East. In February soldiers blocked Tamil locals from fishing in Kurunthoor kulam (lagoon) located in Kurunthoormalai, Mullaitivu. In the past, the Navy has implemented a “pass system” which effectively barred Tamil fishermen from accessing fishing waters for months and only permitting those with military approval.
During the interview, he highlighted his own lack of support in the last election across the North-East and alleged “this is because my image continuously is being tarnished by other Tamil politicians”. “People are misusing my words and making me look like a killer and murderer. But I am not like that”, he added.
Devananda’s pro-government paramilitary has been linked to a series of human rights atrocities through and after the armed struggle. The group stands accused of committing murders, extortion and running drug smuggling and prostitution rings with Tamil children, allegedly trafficking them into its networks in Malaysia and India.
He further attacked the TNA stating that whilst they had described President Gotabaya Rajapaksa as a “killer, a white van abductor, a dictator” they were willing to hold talks with the President. Devananda heaped praise on the President despite damning human rights reports highlighting Rajapaksa’s role in numerous war crimes, torture, and enforced disappearances.
“He is turning out to be a true democratic leader” claimed Devananda.
Read the full interview here.