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Sri Lanka denies attack on fishermen
by Staff Writers
Jaffna, Sri Lanka (UPI) Jan 24, 2012

Sri Lanka's navy denied allegations by Indian media that its ships attacked Indian fishermen and damaged their boats in the seas off Kachchativu Island.

"Sri Lanka navy expresses deep concerns over the malicious allegations repeatedly accusing the navy of harassing Indian fishermen," the navy said in a statement on its Web site.

A report in the Indian newspaper The Hindu said a fisherman was injured "when Indian fishing boats were attacked, allegedly by Sri Lankan naval personnel."

The incident reportedly happened near the International Maritime Boundary Line near Kachchativu.

"The attackers, who were seen patrolling near Kachchativu, allegedly pelted the fishermen with stones," The Hindu report said.

The fishermen said they managed to sail away but not before one man was hit several times and the windshield of one boat smashed.

The Sri Lankan navy said it wasn't involve in the incident and declared that it had come to the aid of nine Indian fishermen last week whose vessels had developed mechanical problems.

"The two trawlers were towed to Talaimannar Naval Base and are being repaired by the Sri Lanka navy, prior to repatriation," the Sir Lankan navy said.

During a meeting of the International Maritime Boundary Line meeting between Sri Lanka and India earlier this month, Sri Lanka's navy briefed Indian authorities on the measures taken to humanely treat Indian fishermen found engaged in poaching in Sri Lankan waters, the Web site statement said.

Illegal fishing is a problem for relations between the two countries. Many of the boats are small wooden vessels suitable for only several men to wield fishing nets. Navigation instruments on board are often non-existent.

In February, Sri Lankan police took into custody 24 Indian fishermen picked up by the navy on suspicion of fishing within Sri Lankan waters, bringing the number of Indian fishermen held to around 140.

Amid a public outcry in southern coastal cities and towns, India's coast guard and Indian navy ships stepped up patrols in Palk Bay, the Gulf of Mannar and Palk Strait -- all of which separate India's southern Tamil Nadu state from northwestern Sri Lanka.

A particular flash point is around the tiny island of Kachchativu where the latest incident allegedly took place.

The uninhabited island is around 285 acres in size but is an important part of the history of the Tamil people in Sri Lanka who have many connections with the Tamil people of southern India.

During the 30-year Sri Lankan civil war that ended in 2009 with the defeat of the separatists Tamil Tiger rebels, the government in Colombo suspected the island was used by the Tigers to smuggle arms from sympathizers in Tamil Nadu.

Despite Kachchativu belonging to Sri Lanka, under the agreement, fishermen from Tamil Nadu have fishing rights in the waters close around it.

However, the government of the Indian state Tamil Nadu periodically calls for New Delhi to reconsider the 1974 agreement that ceded Kachchativu to Sri Lanka and regain sovereignty for its inclusion back into Tamil Nadu.

Last summer the Bharatiya Janata Party, the main opposition political party in India, said it would attempt to land a party of activists on the island but wouldn't give a date.

"We will attempt to go and raise the Indian flag on the island. We have not set a date for that attempt as yet but several other groups in Tamil Nadu are expected to make a similar attempt," Ila Gansesan, president of the Tamil Nadu BJP, told Sri Lanka's Sunday Leader newspaper in August.

The Sri Lankan navy said it would use force to stop any ship illegally entering Sri Lankan waters.

The National Secretary of the Communist Party of India, D. Raja, also said this month that India should reconsider the 1974 agreement.

Raja said the latest alleged attack came only days after India's External Affairs Minister S. M. Krishna visited Sri Lanka. "It is an irony that the attack has taken place immediately in the aftermath of Krishna's visit to Sri Lanka," he said.

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