The Chief of the Indian Naval Staff, Admiral Sureesh Mehta has not ruled out the involvement of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), also known as Tamil Tigers, a terrorist group in Sri Lanka, in the recent incidents of firing on Indian fishermen. It is widely known that the LTTE has been engaged in the practice of attacking Indian fishing boats, with the aim of discrediting the Sri Lanka Navy as well as kidnapping Indian fishermen straying into Sri Lankan waters to achieve their political objectives.

Four Indian fishermen were killed in a firing incident in Indian territorial waters on March 29, 2007. Foreign media have pointed fingers at the Sri Lanka Navy for these killings.

Basing his views on assurances given by the Sri Lankan Naval chief, Admiral Mehta acknowledged that purpose of the shooting could have been to create a rift between India and Sri Lanka. Admiral Mehta told newsmen, “I had personally spoken to the Chief of the Sri Lankan Navy five days back and he assured me that his men had no intention of harassing fishermen in this manner. The Sri Lankan Navy has also issued strict instructions asking its personnel not to open fire on Indian fishermen who had strayed into Lankan waters."

Indian sources confirmed that it was a fishing trawler named ‘Mariah’ that fired at the fishermen and that the incident took place within Indian waters.

Meanwhile, the Sri Lanka Navy has denied the allegations that it was responsible for the killings of the four Indian fishermen. According to naval headquarters, the Sri Lanka Navy does not fire at fishermen and they have instructions to adhere to the Standing Operational Procedures when dealing with fishermen. In a recent meeting between top officers from the Sri Lankan security establishment and the Indian High Commission in Colombo, the Sri Lankan navy chief had shown maps to prove that his ships were nowhere in the vicinity when the incident of firing on Indian fishermen took place.

The Sri Lanka Navy has consistently maintained its strong traditional relationship with the Indian Navy and the Indian Coast Guard, and assists Indian fishermen in distress in Sri Lankan waters jointly with the Indian Coast Guard.

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs said in a statement, “The Government of Sri Lanka also wishes to point out that as a responsible naval force of a friendly country, the Sri Lanka Navy does not under any circumstances enter into Indian territorial waters.”

It adds, “The Government of Sri Lanka is of the view that any complicity regarding the alleged incident must be attributed solely to the LTTE, who have resorted to such provocations in the past as well, in attempts to create strains in the bilateral relationship between India and Sri Lanka. Sri Lanka remains committed to continuing its engagement with the Indian side to work out a coordinated mechanism between the two Navies, to leave no grounds for any such allegations in the future.”

Meanwhile, on March 10, 2007, there was another incident of firing on Indian fishermen in the general area South West of Kachchativu island. Once more, allegations of responsibility were directed at the Sri Lanka Navy. Following investigation into the incident, it was found that no vessel of the Sri Lanka Navy had operated in the vicinity of Kachchativu island, at the time of the incidents.

On the contrary, the Sri Lanka Navy assists Indian fishermen in distress. Incidents in the recent past, such as assistance to the Indian trawler RMS 94 on October 25, 2006 off Karainagar and assistance to an Indian fishing boat in distress off Thondimannnar, on 24th November 2006, bear testimony to such conduct.

In view of these circumstances, it is reasonable to assume that the acts of violence against Indian fishermen are being perpetrated by the LTTE, with a vested interest in attempting to damage the cordial bilateral relationship between India and Sri Lanka.

This increase in allegations of attacks on Indian fishermen comes at a time when Indian and Tamil Nadu authorities are taking steps to curb the arms smuggling networks of the LTTE.

Meanwhile, the Government of Sri Lanka has proposed to the Indian authorities its willingness to work out an arrangement with India to jointly monitor the International Maritime Boundary Line on either side and to share information regarding the movement of Indian fishermen. In addition, the Government of Sri Lanka has also indicated its willingness to send a team to India to cooperate in the investigation of the allegations raised by Indian fishermen.

There is also the issue that the LTTE is engaged in clandestine procurement of materials such as explosives, electric detonators and ball-bearings and aluminum ingots for claymore mines. The Sri Lanka Navy detected an LTTE boat carrying more than 60,000 electronic detonators from India in January 2006. It was intercepted off Kalpitiya in Sri Lankan territorial waters. Since then, the Navy has destroyed a number of trawlers and small fibreglass boats belonging to the LTTE.

The recent arrests of operatives and the seizures of materials for making explosives meant for the Tamil Tigers, coupled with the mid-sea hijacking of a Jordanian commercial vessel in December 2006, indicate that the LTTE has stepped up its activity along the Tamil Nadu coast.

Embassy of Sri Lanka
Washington DC

02 April 2007


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