Colombo: Sri Lanka has freed at least 20 Indian fishermen, even as the foreign ministers from the two countries spoke over phone to resolve the issue that has become an irritant in bilateral ties.
In addition, the magistrate`s court in the eastern port district of Trincomalee yesterday ordered the release of further 30 Indian fishermen held for poaching in Sri Lankan waters.
Announcing the release here, Sri Lankan foreign ministry yesterday said Indian External Affairs Minister Salman Kurshid had a telephone conversation on the fishermen issue with his Lankan counterpart G L Peiris, who was in Jerusalem.
"Having taken into account the humanitarian nature of the problem and difficulties resulting from long-term incarceration to livelihoods and lives of family members of the fishermen, the two Governments decided to release the fishermen who are presently in custody in India and in Sri Lanka as expeditiously as possible," it said.
This initiative, as a goodwill reciprocal gesture commencing from January 13, is also in view of the Pongal festive season and a reflection of the strong bilateral ties.
The announcement came ahead of Sri Lankan fisheries Minister Rajitha Senaratne`s visit to New Delhi this week.
He will meet with his Indian counterpart Sharad Pawar.
The two ministers are expected to discuss long-term measures that can be mutually agreed upon with a view to preventing fishermen from Sri Lanka and India engaging in unlawful fishing in each other`s waters, and implementing the ban on the use of illegal fishing methods, the ministry said.