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Death sentences to fishermen: Lanka downplays India's concerns


Colombo (Oct 31, 2014): Sri Lanka on Friday downplayed India's concerns over the death sentences handed down to five Indian fishermen for alleged drug trafficking, saying India is "clearly aware" of legal systems in the country. Responding to a question, Keheliya Rambukwella, Sri Lankan Minister for Information, said India understands Sri Lanka's prevalent laws.

He said India's concerns raised on Thursday's verdict should not present Sri Lanka with any problems. The five fishermen, all hailing from Tamil Nadu, were apprehended in 2011 by the Sri Lankan Navy on charges of smuggling of drugs in the seas off northern Jaffna's Delft islet.

"India is clearly aware of another country's legal systems, treaties signed, convicts exchange agreements," Rambukwella said adding that Sri Lanka need not make any interpretation of Indian concerns. Rambukwella was asked about Sri Lankan government's reaction to India's reported bid to appeal against the Sri Lankan High Court death sentence against the Indian fishermen.

The court ruling drew a sharp reaction from India which took up the matter with Sri Lanka and said it would appeal to a higher court against the judgement within 14 days.

India on Thursday said the five Indian fishermen - Emerson, P Augustus, R Wilson, K Prasath and J Langlet - who were apprehended on November 28, 2011 by the Sri Lankan Navy on charges of narcotics smuggling, have always maintained their innocence. The Indian government through its High Commission in Colombo and the Consulate General of India in Jaffna has been extending all possible consular assistance to them, Ministry of External Affairs spokesman, Syed Akbaruddin said.

"Government of India is fully committed to continue providing all assistance to the Indian fishermen. The lawyers of the Indian fishermen will file an appeal to the next court of appeal within the prescribed 14 days," the spokesman said.

The court ruling had triggered violent protests in parts of Tamil Nadu on Thursday. Sporadic violence broke out in and around Rameswaram island as a large number of people staged protests against the Sri Lankan court's verdict. 

The issue of fishermen is a very emotive matter for both Sri Lanka and India, where Tamil Nadu-based parties including AIADMK and DMK have been regularly pressing the Centre to take up the matter with the Lankan authorities seriously and have often resented high-profile visits from the island nation.

Sri Lanka has been alleging that Indian fishermen regularly stray into its waters depriving local fishermen of their livelihood. The two countries are separated by the narrow Palk Strait which is also a rich fishing ground.