Sri Lanka Tamils ask India to stop poaching in waters

COLOMBO (AFP) - Sri Lanka's main Tamil party Saturday asked neighbouring India to stop poaching in local waters, saying it was affecting fishermen struggling to rebuild their lives after decades of ethnic war.

The Tamil National Alliance (TNA) said they urged the visiting Indian foreign minister Sushma Swaraj to ensure that Indian trawlers did not breach the maritime boundary and destroy livelihoods of people in battle-scarred northern Sri Lanka.

"Consequent to Indian trawlers coming here in unlimited numbers, the fishing rights of local fishermen have been greatly disturbed," TNA leader R. Sampanthan told reporters after talks with Swaraj.

"Some action should be taken to resolve this issue, preferably on an amicable basis without further delay."

India has maintained the issue should be resolved through "dialogue", but previous talks between fishermen of the two countries had ended in failure.

Sampanthan said they did not want force used to stop poaching, but defended the fishermen' right to self defence in case they were attacked.

Poaching is a contentious issue. Until the end of the separatist war in 2009, local fishermen were not allowed to venture out, leaving the rich fishing grounds open to those from India.

However, with the end of the conflict, the locals have been allowed to go out to sea, but they are confronted by Indian trawlers which enter the area in large numbers, Sampanthan said.

Swaraj is in Sri Lanka on a two-day visit ending Saturday to prepare the ground for next week's visit by Prime Minister Narendra Modi who is due to travel to the northern peninsula of Jaffna where much of the fighting took place during the height of the war.

Sri Lanka's minority Tamils share close cultural ties with those in the southern Indian state of Tamil Nadu, but relations have been strained in recent years over the fishing issue.

However, talks between the Indian minister and her local counterpart, Mangala Samaraweera, skirted the thorny fishing issue and concentrated on other matters, officials said.

Sri Lanka's new government which came to power in January has said it will work closely with neighbouring India, the regional super power, to ensure the island's reconciliation after the decade-long war which claimed the lives of at least 100,000 people between 1972 and 2009.