An Indian fisherman was shot dead on Monday night, allegedly by the Sri Lankan Navy, reported The Hindu. At least one other fisherman sustained injuries in the incident. Sri Lankan security personnel are believed to have opened fire on the men from Rameswaram for entering the country’s waters.
The Sri Lanka Navy has denied the “unsubstantiated” allegation, saying “no such firing” had taken place. It clarified that the patrolling boats are not authorised to open fire at vessels without the Navy commander’s approval, but were asked to arrest fishermen poaching in Sri Lankan waters. The Navy is looking into the veracity of the reports as it involves claims of a shooting.
The fisherman who was killed was identified as K Britso from Thangachimadam. He was in his 20s. The group comprised six fishermen from the area. They had set out for a night fishing trip in a mechanised boat.
After the incident, they got in touch with their leader and asked him to alert the Indian Coast Guard, but they sailed back to shore when the Indian personnel did not reach them in time. The fishermen’s leader S Emerit from Rameswaram confirmed the incident, reported The Times of India. At least 1,000 villagers gathered at the victim’s house. His family has refused to accept his body and demanded assurance from External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj, reported NDTV.
Spokesperson Lieutenant Commander Chaminda Walakuluge said the Sri Lankan Navy had neither been ordered to fire at Indian fishermen nor had they done so. However, other Navy officials said the fisherfolk could have been caught in a cross fire among smugglers who take the sea route. “Or they could have been part of the smuggling operations. When something like this happens, they point the finger at the Sri Lankan Navy,” an official told Daily Mirror.
Meanwhile, the Centre has escalated the matter with the Sri Lankan government, saying it was “deeply concerned” by the fisherman’s killing. “Our high commissioner has taken up the matter with the prime minister of Sri Lanka,” an official told The Times of India, adding that the Sri Lankan Navy had promised a thorough investigation.
Tamil Nadu’s Opposition party Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam said the Centre should warn the neighbouring country against such incidents. “It’s high time that the central government reacts strongly to this problem,” said MK Stalin. “It cannot be a mute spectator.”
Fishermen from the two countries have been arrested in the past for crossing territorial waters. In November, 2016, representatives of the two countries discussed a proposal to set up a coast guard hotline to avoid further disputes. A joint working group meeting will be held in April 2017 to review progress. The United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea states that fishermen who violate territorial water borders may be warned and even fined but not arrested or shot at, Reuters reported.