NEW DELHI/CHENNAI, Jan 13 (IANS): India and Sri Lanka Monday released 52 fishermen each, as part of a goodwill gesture to tide over an issue that has caused tension in ties.
The move was announced in New Delhi by External Affairs Ministry spokesperson Syed Akbaruddin.
The move comes ahead of the Tamil festival of Pongal and a meeting between the fishermen's association of the two countries Jan 20.
The spokesperson said the move was part of an "understanding reached between the Indian and Sri Lanka government to release fishermen in custody prior to the talks".
"On our side, the government of India is in touch with the state governments of Tamil Nadu and Andhra Pradesh in this regard," a statement said.
It said the "government of India attaches the highest importance to the safety, security and welfare of Indian fishermen.
"The government has worked assiduously to secure the release of Indian fishermen who are apprehended by the Sri Lankan authorities on charges of fishing in Sri Lankan waters. Similarly, Sri Lankan fishermen have also been apprehended by our authorities for straying into Indian waters," it said.
"Keeping in mind the humanitarian and livelihood dimensions of the fishermen's issue, the government had reached an understanding though a joint statement with the government of Sri Lanka Oct 26 2008, to put in place practical arrangements to deal with bona fide Indian and Sri Lankan fishermen crossing the International Maritime Boundary Line.
It said that in the last meeting of the joint working group on fisheries in January 2012, both sides agreed to hold a meeting of the fishermen's associations in Chennai Jan 20. Such meetings have been taking place since 2004.
Sri Lankan Fisheries Minister Rajitha Senaratne is to visit New Delhi this week to discuss the issue. Sri Lanka has 275 Indian fishermen in its custody while there are more than 200 Sri Lankan fishermen in Indian custody, including 34 in Andhra Pradesh.
In Chennai, the Tamil Nadu government said in a statement that it will take steps to release Sri Lankan fishermen based on the number of Indian fishermen the island nation frees.
The government said Sri Lanka released the Indian fishermen after obtaining necessary court orders.
Chief Minister J. Jayalalithaa said steps were being taken to release Sri Lankan fishermen so that talks between the fishing community of the two countries can take place in a cordial atmosphere here Jan 20.