Sri Lanka and India have decided to release fishing boats taken into custody from both countries ahead of the visit of Sri Lankan President Maithripala Sirisena to India on Sunday, a government minister said in Colombo.
The new government in Colombo is aiming for better ties with India while retaining the “close friendship” with China. The new President Sirisena will visit Beijing next month after his Delhi trip. Contrary to media reports, Sri Lanka’s new government announced it will go ahead with a $1.5 bn Chinese-funded port city project planned by the previous president.
Sri Lanka’s State Minister of Fisheries Dilip Wedaarachchi said on Sunday that the Sri Lankan government has already taken measures to release 86 Indian boats in its custody.
The boats were seized when Indian fishermen were arrested on several occasions in Sri Lankan waters.
The fishermen had already been freed and Wedaarachchi said that the government had now decided to free the boats as a goodwill measure to mark Sirisena’s first visit to India since taking oath as president last month.
He also said that 24 Sri Lankan boats in Indian custody and six fishermen are to be set free by India when Sirisena heads to India.
Sirisena is scheduled to leave for India on Sunday, his first overseas visit after assuming office since last month’s presidential elections. During his talks with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Sirisena is expected to discuss the fishermen issue.
Sri Lanka’s Plantations Minister and Leader of the House Lakshman Kiriella said on Thursday that the Palk Bay conflict will also be raised, he said: “It is an ongoing issue troubling both sides. The President will surely convey the concerns of our fishermen here.”
The Palk strait is a shallow stretch of sea between southern India and Sri Lanka.
President Sirisena is also likely to discuss possible areas for Indian investment in Sri Lanka, the Minister added.
China has become Sri Lanka’s largest lender in recent years. The island nation has more than $6 billion worth of Chinese-backed investments, including a $1.4 billion project now under construction of offices, hotels, apartment buildings, and shopping centers on reclaimed land in Colombo that is the largest foreign investment in the country’s history. The leading provider of loans to Sri Lanka, China is also financing a $1.3 coal power plant and $1 billion highway.
TBP and Agencies