New Delhi/Colombo/Chennai: Sri Lanka Thursday denied its Navy had fired on three Indian fishermen that led to the death of one of them even as the Indian government, under pressure from its political ally in Tamil Nadu, protested strongly against the incident and asked Colombo to avoid the use of force.
Conveying concerns over the killing of an Indian fisherman by Sri Lankan Navy personnel, India`s external affairs ministry summoned Sri Lankan High Commissioner Prasad Kariyawasam to South Block and stressed that the use of force should be avoided in such incidents.
Kariyawasam met T.S. Tirumurti, joint secretary in charge of Sri Lanka, and is understood to have offered to investigate the incident.
"The Sri Lankan Navy says they were never present in the area and they never fired any shot. Since we have received a complaint, we are inquiring about it," Kariyawasam told reporters after the meeting.
The Sri Lankan Navy reportedly opened fire on three Indian fishermen at sea near the Tamil Nadu coast, leading to the death of one of them, Veerapandian, Wednesday evening.
The envoy told Indian officials that the Sri Lankan Navy was nowhere close to where the firing occurred, informed sources told IANS.
The Sri Lankan Navy, however, categorically denied reports that it had fired at Indian fishermen. "No such incident had been reported," Lankan Navy spokesperson Captain Athula Senarth told reporters in Colombo.
Colombo is understood to have referred the matter to Defence Secretary Gotabhaya Rajapaksa and Sri Lankan naval chief`s office. Sri Lanka`s Foreign Minister G.L. Peiris had a closed door meeting with top officials, including foreign secretary Romesh Jayasinghe on the incident.
The Indian government in New Delhi reacted strongly after Tamil Nadu Chief Minister M. Karunanidhi sought Prime Minister Manmohan Singh`s "personal intervention" to put an end to such incidents.
India`s high commissioner to Sri Lanka Ashok Kantha took up the issue with senior Lankan officials in Colombo and expressed "deep concern and regret" at the reported killing of a fisherman by the Sri Lankan navy.
New Delhi has conveyed to Colombo that resorting "to firing in these situations has no justification and called on the Sri Lankan authorities to desist from use of force".
"The welfare and safety of our fishermen in the waters between India and Sri Lanka have received very high priority by the government," India`s external affairs ministry spokesperson Vishnu Prakash said in New Delhi.
"We call on the Sri Lankan Navy to exercise maximum restraint and avoid use of force in such situations," the spokesperson said while stressing that the Sri Lankan government should refrain from firing on Indian fishermen and scrupulously adhere to the October 2008 understanding reached between the two governments.
The Manmohan Singh government`s strongly-worded response came after Karunanidhi ratcheted up pressure and demanded stern action against the killing of Veerapandian.
"The atrocities of the Sri Lankan Navy are continuing unabated, in spite of repeated assurances given by both Government of India as well as Sri Lankan government," he said in a telegram to the prime minister.
"This particular incident may be taken up with the government of Sri Lanka for immediate action against those responsible for shooting and killing. Your personal intervention is requested for firm action to put an end to such killings."
The killing of Veerapandian was raised in the state assembly as well.
Tamil Nadu Deputy Chief Minister M.K. Stalin said that the killings continued despite the state government taking up the matter with New Delhi, which in turn took up the matter with Sri Lanka.
He said the government had announced compensation of Rs.500,000 to the family of the slain fisherman.
According to him, Veerapandian and four others hailing from Nagapattinam district were fishing about 15 nautical miles out at sea Wednesday evening when a Sri Lankan navy boat opened fire at them. Veerapandian was injured in the shooting and he was taken to shore and then to a hospital.