India on Saturday raised the “humanitarian” issue of Indian fishermen’s rights with Prime Minister Ranil Wickramasinghe, who has stoked a controversy by his remarks that they may be shot if they intruded into Sri Lankan waters.
On a two-day trip ahead of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visit here next week, External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj also made it clear to him that there was no comparison between the issues of Italian sailors and Indian fishermen.
“In the discussion with Prime Minister of Sri Lanka, she (Swaraj) raised the matter regarding issues related to Indian fishermen.
“She explained our view that issues of fishermen is a humanitarian issue. It is an issue of livelihood,” MEA spokesperson Syed Akbaruddin told reporters, hours after Wickramasinghe’s remarks in an interview to a Tamil channel stoked a controversy.
Wickramasinghe alleged that Indian fishermen were taking away the livelihood of Northern Lanka fishermen.
“If someone tries to break into my house, I can shoot. If he gets killed...Law allows me to do that,” he had said.
Wickramasinghe also linked the right to take coercive action to the issue of Italian sailors being arrested, saying that if India is friendly with Italy, it should show the “same magnanimity to Italy that you want us to show.”
Asked about Lanka’s attempt to link the two, Akbaruddin said, “Absolutely no. These are two different issues”.
He explained that there are different aspects even if one views it either from a humanitarian perspective or legal perspective.
“And the External Affairs Minister forthrightly explained to Sri Lanka Prime Minister our perspective on this. Our understanding is that he does understand what the nuances and differences are and agreed to take this conversation forward,” he said.
The issue of Indian fishermen also figured in the talks that Tamil National Alliance (TNA) had with Swaraj. This is the first time that TNA has raised the issue of fishermen with the Indian government, analysts here said.