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Sri Lanka frees Indian fishermen to ease tensions

Sri Lanka's President Mahinda Rajapakse has ordered the release of 29 Indian fishermen held on poaching charges, officials said on Tuesday, in a move to ease tensions over illegal fishing.

COLOMBO: Sri Lanka's President Mahinda Rajapakse has ordered the release of 29 Indian fishermen held on poaching charges, officials said on Tuesday, in a move to ease tensions over illegal fishing.

The island's navy arrested the Indians on Sunday along with six trawlers, days after Rajapakse held talks with India's new Prime Minister Narendra Modi in New Delhi on poaching disputes and other issues.

"President Mahinda Rajapakse as a goodwill measure has ordered the release of 29 Indian fishermen arrested by the Sri Lanka navy while fishing in Sri Lankan waters," his office said in a statement.

Official sources say the arrests had renewed tensions between fishing communities in the two South Asian neighbours.

Rajapakse had marked Modi's assumption of office last week by ordering the release of all Indian fishermen held in the island. But official sources said there were only five Indian fishermen in custody at the time and they had been held for allegedly smuggling narcotics in 2011.

Rajapakse on Tuesday asked for the latest batch of arrested fishermen to be released without trial although the navy had said it wanted civilian authorities to press charges of illegally entering the island's territorial waters.

In New Delhi, Rajapakse and Modi agreed to continue talks on a permanent solution to poaching, which has become a major irritant in relations.

The two countries are separated by the narrow Palk Strait, which is also a rich fishing ground.

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