By Uditha Jayasinghe
Tension between Sri Lanka and India has spiraled as both sides arrest fishermen crossing into each other's maritime boundaries with arrests increasing to hundreds on both sides and triggering calls for diplomatic intervention.
Just last week the Sri Lankan Navy arrested 140 fishermen and 23 boats within just two days. India, not to be outdone, arrested 98 Sri Lankan fishermen in just 13 days in December and with numbers increasing daily. Deeper tensions between Colombo and South Indian state Tamil Nadu seem inevitable. Tamil Nadu and the Sri Lankan government have traditionally had strained relations as the Indian State, home to the largest number of Tamils, has for decades empathized with their Sri Lankan counterparts and their struggle for equal political rights in Sri Lanka.
With the new rise in fishermen arrests this already tenuous relationship has been further strained with Tamil Nadu politicians accusing the Sri Lankan government of turning the narrow strip of sea dividing the two countries into "an open air prison."
Tamil Nadu Chief Minister Jayalalithaa Jeyaram is one of the most vociferous critics of Colombo's human rights record and last week sent a letter accusing Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh of being too soft on the fishermen issue with Sri Lanka's government.
Even though discussions between the two parties have been mooted for next year, they are yet to get locked down, with fishermen getting caught in the middle.
Just days after the 140 Indian fishermen were arrested, Colombo hit back blaming Chief Minister Jayalalithaa Jeyaram for keeping Sri Lankan fishermen "hostage" in order to achieve her political goals.
Deputy Minister of Fisheries Sarath Kumara Gunarathne said that by arresting Sri Lankan fishermen and holding them in Tamil Nadu, Jayalalitha is attempting to win the support of Indian fishing communities.
Speaking in Parliament, the deputy minister claimed that the Tamil Nadu chief minister is demanding that Indian fishermen be allowed to poach in Sri Lankan waters using large scale fishing gear. The deputy minister said that the methods used by Indian trawlers to catch fish is damaging marine life in Sri Lankan waters when they cross the international maritime boundary.
He urged the Tamil National Alliance (TNA), which is Sri Lanka' s main Tamil party, to raise the issue with Jayalalithaa as it is affecting the livelihood of fishermen in the North that is governed by the TNA. More....