Sri Lanka on Saturday said it will not release over 200 Indian fishermen lodged in Colombo before the Indo-Lanka fisheries talks, scheduled in New Delhi later this week to resolve a major irritant in bilateral ties.
Fisheries Minister Rajitha Senaratne, due to visit New Delhi for the proposed talks on Tuesday, said there would be no release of Indian fishermen before the meeting, a day after Tamil Nadu Chief Minister Jayalalithaa ordered the release of 179 Lankan fishermen lodged in state prisons to create a favourable atmosphere.
Senaratne and a team of Sri Lankan legal, naval and external affairs ministry officials are scheduled to meet Agriculture Minister Sharad Pawar, whose portfolio includes fisheries.
"We are looking at a solution where all detained fishermen by both sides would be released simultaneously," Senaratne said, adding a suggestion has been made that Sri Lanka releases Indian fishermen before the bilateral talks on January 14 -- the Thai Pongal day significant for the Tamils.
Jayalalithaa said the Centre had informed the state government officials that Sri Lanka will take steps for the release of Indian fishermen from January 13 and sought a similar gesture.
Senaratne said Jayalalithaa's order had come after she became aware of the invitation extended to him by New Delhi.
According to the fisheries ministry, some 288 Indians are in Sri Lankan custody for allegedly poaching in Lankan waters while 212 Sri Lankans are held by India.
Senaratne said his side would raise with Indian officials the "illegal bottom trawling" in Sri Lankan waters and the resultant economic loss to the country due to Indians "straying into Sri Lankan waters" for fishing.
Frequent arrests of Tamil fishermen by the Sri Lankan navy for alleged maritime violations has been a bone of contention between Sri Lanka and India.