India today raised the "humanitarian" issue of Indian fishermen's rights with Sri Lankan Prime Minister Ranil Wickramasinghe, who has stoked a controversy by his remarks that they may be shot if they intruded into Sri Lankan waters.
On a two-day trip ahead of Prime Minister Narendra Modi's visit to Colombo next week, External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj also made it clear to him that there was no comparison between the issues of Italian sailors and Indian fishermen.
"She explained our view that issues of fishermen is a humanitarian issue. It is an issue of livelihood," MEA spokesperson Syed Akbaruddin told reporters, hours after Mr Wickramasinghe's remarks in an interview to a Tamil channel stoked a controversy.
Mr Wickramasinghe alleged that Indian fishermen were taking away the livelihood of the fishermen Northern Lanka.
"If someone tries to break into my house, I can shoot. If he gets killed...the law allows me to do that," he had said.
Mr Wickramasinghe also linked the right to take coercive action to the issue of Italian sailors being arrested, saying that if India is friendly with Italy, it should show the "same magnanimity to Italy that you want us to show."
Asked about Lanka's attempt to link the two, Mr Akbaruddin said, "Absolutely no. These are two different issues".
He explained that there are different aspects even if one views it either from a humanitarian perspective or legal perspective.
"And the External Affairs Minister forthrightly explained to Sri Lanka Prime Minister our perspective on this. Our understanding is that he does understand what the nuances and differences are and agreed to take this conversation forward," he said.
The issue of Indian fishermen also figured in the talks that Tamil National Alliance (TNA) had with Ms Swaraj. This is the first time that TNA has raised the issue of fishermen with the Indian government, analysts said.
The fishermen issue did not figure in talks between Ms Swaraj and Samaraweera. "We had an excellent round of bilateral talks but the fishing issue did not figure in the talks," Samaraweera said.
Sri Lankan officials said the discussions focused on the PM Modi's next visit. "From the Sri Lankan side there were many issues that needed to be discussed in order to finalise signing of agreements during the PM's (Modi) visit," a Foreign Ministry official said.
Samaraweera briefed Ms Swaraj on the domestic political issues. "He (Samaraweera) briefed on the 100-day programme and the constitutional changes like reforming the executive presidential system".
As Ms Swaraj was having talks in Colombo, Sri Lankan President Maithripala Sirisena left for London this morning to attend the Commonwealth Day events. Mr Sirisena, the current chair of the Commonwealth, will return on March 12 for the arrival of PM Modi.