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Whose waters and whose fish?

Indian and Sri Lankan navies are reportedly contemplating joint patrolling along the international maritime boundary in order to prevent any violence against fishermen.

The possibility was discussed by the Indian foreign secretary, Ranjai Mathai, during his three-day visit to Sri Lanka.

The suggestion comes amidst further Sri Lankan navy attacks on Tamil Nadu fishermen. According to reports, the Sri Lankan navy are also employing paramilitary agents to engage in these mid-sea attacks.

Indian officials have also hinted that forming a supervisory committee comprising members of both the navies and representatives of fishermen from the two sides, remains a possibility.

"Both these proposals will be discussed in the next meeting. Joint patrolling by Sri Lankan navy and either Indian navy or Coast Guard in Gulf of Mannar and Palk Bay can help address the concerns of Indian fishermen," said an official.

Mahinda Rajapaksa is reported to have categorically denied the role of any navy personnel in the latest assault case, when Mathai raised the issue with him in Sri Lanka.

Mathai later said that there was no place for violence in dealing with a matter which was essentially about livelihood and called on the fishermen of both sides of the Palk strait to engage in deep sea fishing, arguing that such an agreement would minimise conflicts.

Sri Lanka has rejected this suggestion.

Lanka Fisheries Minister, Rajitha Senaratne, said,

“The call to go for deep sea fishing is very good, but it should apply only to Indian fishermen,”

“Fishermen from North West Lanka are fishing only in Lankan waters. It is the Indian fishermen who are intruding into Lankan waters. Therefore, it is the Indian fishermen who should move away from here and fish elsewhere.”

However, Senaratne's statements, though welcomed by the Sinhala south, do not represent the grievances and plight of Eelam Tamil fishermen.

Dr A S Soosai, an activist in the fishermen’s movement and a Professor of Geography at Jaffna University, said,

Firstly, the deep seas are too far for them. Secondly, the fishermen here do not have multi-day boats with satellite communication equipment. To buy such a vessel they need around $91,000). They also need training and the port facilities. None of these is available now."

See 'Hundreds of Eezham fishermen silently agitate before Indian mission in Jaffna'

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