Colombo plays down Indian deaths

[TamilNet, Wednesday, 30 July 1997, 23:59 GMT]
On Monday, the Sri Lankan Foreign Ministry denied its security forces had fired on Indian fishing craft as described by the Indian High Commission here. According to the Indian government, Sri Lankan gunboats and aircraft had fired on fishermen from Tamil Nadu on July 14 and 17 respectively. Sri Lanka denied what it called 'monstrous allegations'. However, the Foreign Ministry's feigned innocence is in sharp contrast to the regularity of attacks on Tamil and Indian fishermen carried out by the Sri Lankan military.

map_sri_lanka.gif In a statement, the Sri Lankan Foreign Ministry said that it "categorically refutes the monstrous allegation that Sri Lankan aircraft have deliberately intruded into Indian territorial waters and attacked fishermen". Sri Lankan gunships are said to have attacked Indian Tamil fishermen close to the Tamil Nadu coastline on July 17.

According to three survivors, in another incident on July 14, Sri Lankan gunboats had attacked an Indian fishing boat, sinking it and killing two people on board. The Sri Lankans admit that two of their craft were in the vicinity, but deny they had fired on the Indians.

The issue was raised by the Indian High Commission because of rising public anger in Tamil Nadu. On Monday, a thousand people gathered in front of the Sri Lankan Deputy High Commissioner's office in Madras to protest.

Despite Sri Lanka's protestations of innocence, there have been several recent incidents in which Indian fishermen have been killed by Sri Lankan naval vessels or aircraft. On May 3 fishermen were killed when Sri Lankan gunboats strafed their boat. Last December two Indians were killed and seven injured in a similar incident. Another Indian was killed in another attack a month earlier, and there have been several other attacks in the past few years, with scores of Indians being killed and wounded.

Cartoon Times of India
Cartoon: Times of India,13.12.1984
However, these incidents pale in comparison to the hundreds of Tamil fishermen killed by the Sri Lankan military in the same period. Whilst most deaths occur when the boats are at sea, many Tamil fishermen have died when the Sri Lankan navy and air force have blasted fishing villages on the coastline of the Tamil homelands.

On March 15, 1996, Sea Tigers attacked SLN vessels off Mannar, sinking one, destroying another and capturing a third. The following morning, Sri Lankan Air Force Mi-24 gunships leveled Nachchikudah village, killing 16 civilians and severely wounding 60 others. The Sri Lankan military described the attack as the destruction of an 'LTTE camp' and claimed 30 'terrorists' had been killed, despite protests by Members of Parliament, aid workers, local priests and civil servants.

On occasion, several Sri Lankan craft will take up position off a Tamil village and systematically destroy all standing structures. The Mullaitivu and Mannar coastlines are particularly vulnerable as they are crowded with fishermen who had fled the Jaffna peninsula in early 1996, ahead of a Sri Lankan army offensive. The attacks on fishing communities are typically claimed as attacks on Sea Tiger 'bases'.

Hitting coastal Tamil towns and villages has been a long-standing practice of the Sri Lankan navy. In August 1984, over 100 Tamil civilians were slaughtered when a Sri Lankan flotilla stood off the Tamil town of Velvettithurai (VVT) and launched a sustained barrage, according to the Times of India. The Sea Tigers had not been formed then, and Sri Lanka enjoyed uncontested supremacy of the seas around the island. VVT has regularly been targeted since as it is the LTTE leader's hometown.

Apart from the fact that most Indian fishing boats in the Palk Strait would be from Tamil Nadu fishing communities (and therefore crewed by Tamils), the Sinhalese have been ready to fire on Indian vessels as there are territorial disputes with India. In particular, the ownership of Katchathivu island has always been a point of contention.

Sri Lanka was to have taken possession of the island while Indian boats were to be granted access to the rich seas around it, according to an agreement. However, Sri Lankan naval vessels have jealously guarded this tiny island, firing at Indian fishermen who approach it. Though this issue has not featured prominently between the two countries, it is an important issue in the state of Tamil Nadu.

The Indian central government is unlikely to let what it considers a trivial issue disrupt its efforts to build better relationships with Sri Lanka. True to form, the Sri Lankan Foreign Minister has blamed acrimony on the Tamil Tigers who he says "were constantly looking out for opportunities to disrupt the good relationship between Sri Lanka and India".

However, given recent events, it would appear that the Sri Lankan navy is quite capable of infuriating south India's Tamils unaided and the LTTE does not have any helicopter gunships.

Whilst Sri Lanka's prompt denial will probably give Delhi the opportunity to turn to Madras and shrug its shoulders, simmering anger in the south Indian state will fuel anti-Sri Lanka sentiment, which in turn can be expected to increase local support for the Tamil Tigers.

These are some of the attacks carried out by the Sri Lankan security forces on Tamil and Indian fishermen in the past 18 months. It is believed that many other fishermen who simply go missing have also been killed by the Sri Lankan Navy (SLN), but such instances are not included here.

19 Jan 1996 SLN gunboats attack Tamil fishing boats off Mullaitivu coast and shell shoreline villages. Several fishermen are killed, and bodies later wash up.

23 Jan 1996 SLN gunboats return to Mathathalan village area and open fire on fishing boats. One fisherman is killed, but others swim to shore. Their boats are destroyed.

2 Feb 1996 SLN gunboats fire on Tamil fishermen off Thanankilappu, wounding one.

3 Feb 1996 SLN gunboats launch dawn attack on Tamil fishing boats off Jaffna peninsula. One man was injured, but was rescued by fellow fishermen.

24 Feb 1996 SLN gunboats open fire on a group of Tamil fishing boats, destroying one.

5 Mar 1996 SLN gunboats fire on Tamil fishing boats off the Jaffna peninsula's eastern coast, sinking two. Fishermen abandon their boats and swim to nearby shore whilst navy confiscat their craft.

7 Mar 1996 SLN gunboats strafe Mullaitivu coastline, forcing residents to flee into the interior.

8 Mar 1996 Tamil boats fishing at night are attacked by several SLN gunboats. One fisherman is killed instantly.

16 Apr 1996 SLN gunboats fire on a Tamil fishing boat off Sirutheevu island, killing one man.

20 Apr 1996 SLN gunboats fire on Tamil fishing boats off Mannar, wounding one man.

9 Sep 1996 SLN gunboats fire on Tamil fishing boats off Mullaitivu coast, destroying several boats and killing one man.

10 Sep 1996 Whilst attacking an LTTE radar station, SLN gunboats pound nearby Tamil villages , killing at least three fishermen and wounding many others.

14 November 1996 Three fishermen returning to shore are fired on and arrested by Sri Lankan troops. Two were later found murdered.

23 November 1996 SLN gunboats fire on Indian fishing boat, killing one man.

18 Dec 1996 SLN gunboats fire on Indian fishermen, killing two and wounding seven. SLN craft also fire on Tamil fishermen elsewhere, killing one.

22 December 1996 SLN gunboats pursue and fire on Indian fishing boats, killing one man.

9 Jan 1997 The body of an Indian fisherman washes up on Mannar beach, riddled with bullets.

20 Jan 1997 A fisherman is killed in the sea off Trincomalee, when SLN gunboats fire on his boat.

23 Jan 1997 The headless body of a fisherman washes up on a Mullaitivu beach.

SLN gunboats launch night bombardment of Alampil village, causing villagers to flee deeper inland.

25 Jan 1997 Another headless body of a fisherman washes up on the Mullaitivu shore.

8 Feb 1997 SLN gunboats fire on fishing boats setting out from Mathalm village in Mullaitivu and then also attack the village.

17 Feb 1997 Sri Lankan jets bomb fishing boats off Mannar, killing three fishermen and wounding six. More than half the flottila of 35 boats are destroyed.

13 Mar 1997 SLN gunboats attack a fishing boat before strafing nearby Tamil villages on Mullaitivu coast. One fisherman goes missing, presumed dead.

30 Mar 1997 A fisherman is wounded when his boat is fired on in Batticaloa lagoon.

27 Apr 1997 A Mannar fisherman is killed when SLN gunboats fire on his dinghy.

10 May 1997 A fisherman is shot dead whilst fishing in Batticaloa lagoon.

11 May 1997 Three Indian fisherman are shot dead by SLN personnel.

12 May 1997 Sri Lankan air force jets bomb and strafe Tamil fishing villages in Mullaitivu, destroying houses and boats.

13 May 1997 Air assault on Mullaitivu continues as SLN gunboats also shell villages on the shore line. Six fishermen are killed, and seven injured.

12 July 1997 SLN gunboats decimate fishing boats along Mullaitivu coast. Ten fishermen go missing after the attack and are presumed dead.

13 July 1997 SLN gunboats shell Mullaitivu coastal villages. Sri Lankan gunships destroy several fishing boats at sea.


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