India, Sri Lanka sign pact to end fishermen crisis

India and Sri Lanka have agreed to work towards ending bottom trawling by Indian fishermen, set up procedures to repatriate arrested fishermen and patrol together. The agreement, signed by external affairs minister Sushama Swaraj and her visiting Sri Lankan counterpart  Mangala Samaraweera, also provides for a joint working group (JWG) and a ministerial meeting every few months on the fishermen issue that has affected bilateral ties.

The agreement sets the tone a day before Sri Lankan President Maithripala Sirisena arrives in India for a day. A joint statement said the first ministerial meeting would be held on January 2, 2017 in Colombo.
The JWG would “include representatives from the ministries of foreign affairs, the coast guards and navies of both countries”.

The coast guards of the two countries would set up hotlines for instant communication. The joint statement laid out the terms of reference for the JWG. They would include “expediting the transition towards ending the practice of bottom trawling at the earliest; working out the modalities for the standard operating procedures for handing over of apprehended fishermen; and ascertaining possibilities for cooperation on patrolling”.

Fishermen’s associations from both sides have been asked to meet every six months. The statement said, “Both governments agreed to the request by the fishermen’s associations that there should be no loss of life in the handling of fishermen by the navies and coast guards of the two countries.”

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