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Saturday, 26 February 2011






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Government Gazette

Fishing in troubled waters

Incidents of Indian fishermen poaching in Sri Lankan waters have been increasing recently. This happens usually off the Northern coast of Sri Lanka.

This is an area in which fishing was banned during the war period. The end of the war saw the Northern fishermen taking to fishing in a big way due to the lifting of the restrictions. In such a background poaching Indian fishermen are likely to encounter resistance from local fishermen.

It was a few weeks back that local fishermen had surrounded the intruding Indian fishermen, apprehended them and handed them over to the authorities. Subsequently they were produced before Courts and legal proceedings instituted according to the law of the land.

It is the only course of action open to the authorities. Unfortunately it caused a big stir in Tamil Nadu and even the central government of India was moved into making statements decrying the detention of the poachers.

Also a huge cry was made in Tamil Nadu alleging the Sri Lankan Navy of killing Indian fishermen in mid-sea. The Sri Lankan Navy has rightly denied these allegations as satellite images do not show the presence of the SLN in places where clashes were reported to be happening.

These developments were subsequently handled at top levels of the Governments of both countries. It has eased the tension that was building up. The visit of Indian Foreign Secretary Nirupama Rao and the release of the Indian fishermen in custody by Sri Lanka and the release of Sri Lankan fishermen who were being detained in Chennai helped to diffuse the tension.

It is now time to dispassionately look at the issue and work out a permanent solution that would guarantee the non-recurrence of such unpleasant incidents. It is not only Indian fishermen that stray into Sri Lankan waters but also Sri Lankan fishermen who stray into Indian waters.

This is all the more important since there are forces in both Sri Lanka and in India, particularly in Tamil Nadu who have a vested interest in soiling the good relations that exist between Sri Lanka and India. The forthcoming elections in Tamil Nadu is the single biggest factor that has made politicians there to whip up anti-Sri Lankan sentiments in a bid to outshine one another in a bid to enhance their vote bank.

Traditionally these rivals used the ethnic conflict in Sri Lanka to whip up anti-Sri Lankan sentiments to gather votes. However, since the assassination of Rajiv Gandhi the issue had become a non-starter in Tamil Nadu. Even at the height of the last phase of the humanitarian occupation of the Security Forces against the LTTE which coincided with an election in Tamil Nadu, the Sri Lankan factor was not prominent as shown by the results.

Thus having seen the deflation of the Sri Lankan ethnic issue as a propaganda tool Tamil Nadu politicians have started to fish in troubled waters by capitalizing on the confrontations between the fishermen of the two countries in isolated instances.

Nor are those fishing in troubled waters confined to the Indian mainland. There are some here across the Palk Straits too. The Opposition wants to blow up the issue and paint a gloomy and desperate picture of Indo-Sri Lanka relations.

These relations, however, have withstood bigger constraints since they are built on centuries of friendly engagement in the fields of economics, politics, culture and history. It should be remembered that our two countries have a common civilizational bond.

There are already established mechanisms that could deal with the issue. As the two countries agreed during the visit of Indian Foreign Secretary Nirupama Rao recently the Joint Working Group (JWG) of the two countries would meet in early March to work out a permanent and humanitarian solution. In the meantime both governments have advised their fishermen not to cross the International Maritime Boundary Line (IMBL) between the two countries. Perhaps the JWG could agree upon a system of joint patrolling of the IMBL among others.

The two countries should also investigate whether there are third parties interested in escalating tension in the Palk Straits.

Given Sri Lanka’s strategic geographical location and the rival geo-political interests of various world and regional powers in the Indian Ocean zone it is essential to remove all irritants in Indo-Sri Lanka relations on the fishing issue.

D R Wijewardene - 125th birth anniversary:

Multi-dimensional personality

The secret of late D R Wijewardene as a powerful newspaper proprietor was due to his high degree of discipline, dedication, devotion, commitment combined with loftiness of his character and versatility of his intellect. Further, no field of human endeavours was left untouched by the swaying amplitude of his imagination, encompassing sweep of his thought, felicity of his words and the indefatigable zeal of his actions. No wonder, he left an indelible impression in most of what he touched with rare dynamism and exemplary zeal.

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Note decorating black bough of Havelock Road

The Morning Inspection - Malinda

Some years ago a reckless act by my reckless friend Buddhike Navaratne, at the time working under me in the Special Media Unit of the Information Department, saw me visiting the Kirulapona Police Station sometime after midnight. He had not only been caught riding his motorcycle under the influence of alcohol, he had made matters worse by arguing with the Police. His friend (and later mine), Bharatha Mallawarachchi, who told me what happened and took me to the Police Station thereafter, said that although it might be possible to talk to the officers and obtain leniency, it would be very difficult to convince Buddhike to be beneficiary of Police generosity. He was right.

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Prawn cocktail across the Palk Strait

On My Watch - Luclen Rajakarunanayake

The recent political turbulence over developments in the waters between Sri Lanka and India has produced some interesting information. The people of Tamil Nadu and adjacent areas have a special liking of the ‘paraw’ fish (blacktip trevally). They have a similar liking for prawns and sea cucumber, while traders in other marine produce have a great interest in conch shells. The problem is that this special liking is mainly for the paraw, prawns, sea cucumber and conch shells found in the waters of Sri Lanka, South of the International Maritime Boundary Line (IMBL) that separates the Indian Ocean between spheres of control of India and Sri Lanka.

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