11/04/2011, 00.00
INDIA – SRI LANKA
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Orissa: last five Sri Lankan fishermen released through Church intervention

by Santosh Digal
Held in prison for months, the five men were part of a crew of 24 arrested for crossing into Indian territorial waters. The other 19 were released in early October.
Bhubaneswar (AsiaNews) – The mediation by the Archdiocese of Cuttack-Bhubaneswar with authorities in Orissa successfully ended in the release of the last five (of 24) Sri Lankan fishermen held on charges of illegal entry into Indian territorial waters. The five’s liberation comes months before their announced date of release of January 2012 set by a court on 3 October.

The release process began after Fr Dibakar Parichha, human rights and diocesan secretary for Justice, Peace and Development Commission of the Archdiocese of Cuttack-Bhubaneswar, interceded with the authorities on behalf of the detained Sri Lankans. On 1 October, the first ten were released from Jagatsinghpur Prison. On 3-4 October, another nine (including five Christians) were let go.

The judge handling the case handed the former detainees over to the clergyman who housed them at his guesthouse until all their paperwork was done.

Speaking to AsiaNews, he said he was happy about the fishermen’s release. “The five Sri Lankans can now be reunited with their families and start their life again with hope and optimism,” Fr Parichha said.

The incident highlights however the long standing dispute between India and Sri Lanka about fishermen not respecting maritime borders. The issue is especially felt in India’s coastal states and in the islands in the Bay of Bengal.

Indian authorities have arrested foreign fishing crews on several occasions for crossing into its territorial waters.

In March 20099, during a fishing expedition, nine vessels with 51 men on board were intercepted off the Andaman and Nicobar Islands, which are part of India.

The detained fishermen were held for six months without charges and denied the right to communicate with their families.
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