Sri Lanka arrests more Indian fishermen as tensions rise

COLOMBO (AFP) - Sri Lanka's navy said on Sunday it has arrested 73 Indian fishermen for illegal poaching amid heightened tensions between the neighbours over the long-standing issue.

The navy said it seized 16 Indian trawlers with 73 fishermen on board for poaching in Sri Lankan waters over the weekend.

"The arrested fishermen were handed over to officials of the department of fisheries... for further action," the navy said in a statement.

Last week, Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapakse ordered the release of 29 Indians who were arrested off the island's northern waters on charges of poaching in a move to ease tensions over the issue.

Rajapakse raised the problem of illegal fishing during talks last month with new Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi after his swearing-in ceremony in New Delhi.

The south Indian state of Tamil Nadu has repeatedly accused Sri Lanka's navy of harassing their fishermen and urged New Delhi to take firm action against Colombo.

Sri Lanka denies the charges, and says Indian fishermen are regularly straying into Sri Lankan waters and depriving local fishermen of their livelihood.

During their discussions, Rajapakse and Modi agreed to continue official-level talks for a permanent solution to poaching, a major irritant in bilateral ties.

The two countries are separated by a narrow strip of sea known as the Palk Strait which is also a rich fishing ground.

Attempts by fishing communities in India and Sri Lanka to resolve the problem have ended in failure.