Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Sri Lanka denies involvement of Sri Lanka Navy in the killing of two Indian fishermen

The attention of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs has been drawn to reports in the Indian media alleging that two fishermen from Nagapattinam on the south Indian coast were killed while fishing off Point Calimere on 11th July 2008, due to firing by the Sri Lanka Navy. A third fisherman is alleged to have suffered injuries in the same incident.

When reports of this nature are received, a rigorous procedure is instituted by Naval Headquarters in Colombo, in keeping with the firm resolve of the Government of Sri Lanka to deal in a humanitarian manner with fishermen apprehended in Sri Lankan waters. The procedure includes Naval Headquarters ascertaining from the Area Commands as to whether any vessels of the Navy were involved in operations in the area of the alleged incident, as per the reported date and time. The preliminary findings in this case are that there were no Naval units operating on the Sri Lanka side of the International Maritime Boundary Line (IMBL) in the area off Point Calimere on 11th July.

However, there was an incident that same night at 21.10 hours at a completely different location, namely approximately 8 NM East of Point Pedro when two Sri Lanka Navy fast attack craft deployed on a routine patrol detected on their radar, a boat moving in a suspicious manner at high speed of around 34 knots, The night vision cameras of the Navy vessels further discerned the suspicious craft as having the configuration of an LTTE low profile boat. The video pictures of the suspicious boat as recorded by the cameras are available with the Sri Lanka Navy, which it is willing to share with the Indian Naval authorities, along with other relevant information. When the suspect boat failed to respond to warnings to halt, the Naval craft were constrained to open fire.

It was not possible for the Navy vessels to assess the outcome of the action taken by them and accordingly the possibility of the suspect boat having continued on its northerly course cannot be ruled out. The attached map (Annex - I) provides the maritime location of the action taken by the Sri Lanka Navy vessels at 21.10 hours on 11th July. It is clear that the incident took place well within Sri Lankan territorial waters and around the sensitive area of Point Pedro, from where the LTTE Sea Tiger wing has frequently engaged in terrorist activities, including attacking cargo and passenger vessels operating to and from the Jaffna peninsula.

The following reasons substantiate the premise that there was no action by the Sri Lanka Navy in the vicinity off Point Calimere on 11th July 2008, despite the allegations aired via the media:

a) Sri Lanka Naval vessels operate only on the Sri Lankan side of the IMBL.

b) The Area Commands at all times control the operations of the Naval units deployed under them. The standing instructions issued to the Commanding Officers of all Naval craft include the need to treat crew of detected/apprehended fishing vessels in a humanitarian manner, There have also been several instances where pursuant to these instructions, Sri Lankan Naval craft have rendered assistance to Indian fishermen in distress, which has been publicly acknowledged and appreciated by those fishermen and their families.

c) Some of the media reports concerning the alleged incident off Point Calimere refer to over 20 bullet injuries on the body of one of the deceased. Such injuries can occur only through firing at point blank range from small arms. In the incident off Point Pedro, the two Naval craft had to engage from long range the suspicious boat due to its traveling at a high speed;

d) Yet another report on the alleged incident off Point Calimere referred to the wounded fisherman as having called his relatives on the mainland using his mobile phone. The coverage of mobile phones when used in the Palk Straits is invariably limited to national territorial waters. It is reiterated that Sri Lanka Naval units operate always within Sri Lankan territorial waters.

It is important to remain mindful that there is a track record of the LTTE attacking Indian fishermen. One such incident attested by the Press Release issued on 27th April 2007 by the Director General of Police of the State of Tamil Nadu, relates to the massacre of five Indian fishermen from Kanyakumari on 29th March 2007 by an LTTE vessel operating under the name "Maria", The possibility of the incident off Point Calimere having taken place due to similar LTTE action cannot be ruled out, especially because the following day (12th July) there were reports of Indian fishermen in the same waters having been manhandled and their nets cut.

The LTTE hopes to derive a double advantage by staging such attacks. Firstly, it seeks to place pressure on innocent fishermen to associate themselves with the nefarious activities of the Tigers. Secondly, it endeavours to falsely implicate the Sri Lanka Navy, with a view to damaging the excellent bilateral relations between India and Sri Lanka.

However, in view of the tragic loss of life of the two Indian fishermen, the Government of Sri Lanka is continuing its inquiries into this incident.

Ministry of Foreign Affairs

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