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Following the refusal by Sri Lankan fishermen’s associations to hold any further talks with their Indian counterparts, regarding the longstanding ‘fishing dispute’ between the two countries, authorities will now attempt to resolve the issue at government level, Minister of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources Development Mahinda Amaraweera told The Nation.

Minister Amaraweera said he met with representatives of Northern fishermen’s associations last week where the issue was discussed at length. “The delegation told me further talks on resolving this issue between fishermen’s associations was pointless as the Indian side was not honoring their earlier commitments,” he stated. Sri Lankan fishermen’s associations have reiterated they would boycott the next round of talks due to be held with their Indian counterparts, on the grounds that Indian fishermen continue to fish illegally in Sri Lankan territorial waters in large numbers.

Amaraweera acknowledged that there was ‘a degree of truth’ in the arguments made by the Northern fishermen’s delegation.

“While the (Indian) fishermen themselves are innocent persons, most of the boat owners are either aligned with politicians or are politicians themselves. Their actions have made it difficult to address the issue successfully”.

As such, the Minister said he had instructed officials to explore the possibility of initiating government level talks soon in order to find solutions to the issue.

Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe discussed the fishermen’s issue with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, during his official visit to New Delhi last month. Speaking after their official meeting on September 15, Prime Minister Modi stated that the two prime ministers had agreed that fishermen’s associations on both sides should continue their efforts to find a solution.

However, given the firm stance of the local fishermen’s associations to boycott further talks at association level, there was no other option than to begin talks at government level, Amaraweera pointed out. “But we will be involving fishermen’s associations from both countries in these talks,” he stressed.