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* Sri Lanka, India agree to release all fishermen and vessels
Wed, Jan 15, 2014, 11:57 pm SL Time, ColomboPage News Desk, Sri Lanka.

Jan 15, New Delhi: Sri Lanka and India today agreed to immediately release all fishermen and their boats detained under each other's custody.

The two countries reached this agreement during the talks held between a Sri Lankan delegation led by the Minister of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources Rajitha Senaratne and the Union Government Minister of Agriculture Sharad Pawar in New Delhi Wednesday.

Minister Senaratne speaking to Indian media following the "highly fruitful" talks said Sri Lanka would start the process of releasing the fishermen and vessels from tomorrow and he will be directing his Ministry and the Attorney General's department in the process.

He told the reporters India had agreed to release 160 Sri Lankan fishermen and four vessels and in return, Sri Lanka will release 236 Indian fishermen and their 90 boats.

According to the Director General of the Fisheries Department Nimal Hettiarachchi the agreement was reached at the initial stage of the bilateral talks between the Indian and Sri Lankan officials.

The Minister also said his ministry would identify the measures that will help to minimize issues between the two nations pertaining to fishing activities and a meeting between the Sri Lankan and Tamil Nadu fishermen would held as requested by the Indian government.

Responding to media queries, Minister Senaratne said Sri Lanka would raise the issue of bottom trawling by the Tamil Nadu fishermen since the Indian practice is damaging Sri Lanka's aquatic resources.

He charges that about 1,200 boats are entering into Sri Lankan waters every day and engaged in bottom trawling, a practice Sri Lanka has banned.

According to the Minister, a six-member committee, three officials from each side, has been formed to resolve the fishing issues between the two countries and the first meeting of the committee would be convened tomorrow in New Delhi. The Indian Agriculture Secretary would lead the Indian team while Director General of the Fisheries Hettiarachchi would head the Sri Lankan team at the meeting.

He denied the charge the Sri Lankan Navy was attacking Indian fishermen. "Your (Indian) own navy commander, your own Director General of Coast Guard have informed the court that it was not so," he told reporters.

The Sri Lankan Minister also met Indian Minister of External Affairs Salman Khurshid on Wednesday before his meeting with Minister Pawar.

Meanwhile, both India and Sri Lanka has released 52 fishermen each from their detention. The Indian Coast Guard will take the released Sri Lankan fishermen to Sri Lanka tomorrow and bring the released Indian fishermen back.

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