Ahead of Sri Lankan Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe's first foreign visit to India, at least 16 Indian fishermen arrested recently for allegedly poaching in Sri Lankan waters will be released in a goodwill gesture, according to the Press Trust of India.
The Prime Minister's Office said a fishing organisation in Tamil Nadu had made an appeal to the government to consider the medical condition of the arrested fishermen.
The fishermen are to be released late Sunday on humanitarian grounds, the office announced.
Wickremesinghe will leave Monday on a three-day visit to India, his first official visit overseas since being appointed Prime Minister in January this year, and is expected to hold talks with Prime Minister Narendra Modi, External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj and President Pranab Mukhrjee.
The talks are expected to touch upon the frequent run-ins between the two countries of fishermen encroaching into each other's territorial waters.
In March, Sri Lanka ordered the release of 86 Indian fishermen arrested for allegedly poaching in Sri Lankan waters as a goodwill gesture to mark Modi's visit, the first by an Indian premier to this country in over 25 years.
Later the same month, Sri Lankan President Maithripala Sirisena ordered the release of 54 Indian fishermen from Tamil Nadu.
The Asia Times reports that Wickremesinghe's choice of Delhi as the destination of his first state visit should reassure India of the priority it enjoys in the Sri Lankan government’s foreign policy agenda.
The Sirisena-Wickremesinghe team is “more trustworthy” than the Rajapaksa regime, an official in India’s Ministry of External Affairs told the newspaper, drawing attention to their attempt over the past eight months to “restore balance” in Sri Lanka’s foreign policy, which had assumed a “pronounced pro-China tilt” during the Mahinda Rajapaksa presidency.
Relations between India and Sri Lanka deteriorated during Rajapaksa’s second term (2010-Jan 2015) over his government’s reluctance to initiate a meaningful reconciliation with the island’s alienated Tamils and the Sri Lankan navy’s detention of hundreds of Tamil Nadu fishermen straying into Sri Lankan waters.
India was also concerned over China’s growing role in the Sri Lankan economy; Delhi feared that Sri Lanka’s mounting indebtedness to China would result in the latter securing for itself a military presence in the island. Such anxieties became real in September-October 2014 when Chinese submarines docked twice in Sri Lanka’s harbors despite India’s objections.