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Narendra Modi in Sri Lanka to discuss fishery, visas and support for Tamils

The Indian Prime Minister is on the last leg of his tour of insular South Asia. AsiaNews speaks to Herman Kumara, a prominent activist for the rights of fishermen. The visit is a good sign "for stronger relations," but Colombo has to learn to talk to its citizens.

Colombo (AsiaNews) - Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi arrived in Sri Lanka this morning on the last leg of his Indian Ocean tour. Sri Lankan Prime Minister Ranil Wicramasinghe welcomed him at Bandaranaike International Airport. 

Modi will discuss some important issues with Sri Lankan President Maithripala Sirisena, like security, investment, rehabilitation and resettlement of Tamils, ​​and full implementation of the 13th amendment

New Delhi and Colombo have already signed four bilateral agreements concerning visa, customs, youth development and the building of a monument to honour Rabindranath Tagore. 

Modi, the first Indian prime minister to visit Sri Lanka in 28 years, also announced a US$ 1.5 billion swap agreement between the Reserve Bank of India and the Central Bank of Sri Lanka to help stabilise the Sri Lankan rupee.

Finally, New Delhi said it was ready to support Trincomalee's bid to become a major oil hub, and would provide a US$ 318 million line of credit for Sri Lanka's railway sector. 

For its part, Sri Lanka will release 86 Indian fishermen. They, and other fishermen from both countries, have been caught up in the decade-long bilateral crisis over "illegal" fishing in their respective territorial waters.

The ferry service between Rameswaram in India and Talaimannar in Sri Lanka is also set to resume. It had been interrupted by Sri Lanka's 30- year civil war.

AsiaNews spoke to Herman Kumara about Modi's visit. Mr Kumara is the national president of the National Fisheries Solidarity Movement (NAFSO), and a member of the World Forum for Fisher People (WFFP).

How do you see the visit of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi to Sri Lanka?

It is an important visit. Under the previous regime, we were marginalised even in South Asia, because we got too close to China in many ways. India was not happy about that. Therefore, the visit by the president of Sri Lanka to India and this one are good signs for stronger relations.

However, we are concerned that some issues - economic agreements, the fishery crisis, Sampur residents - might get worse unless the government of Sri Lanka talks with its own citizens.

Are you planning to meet Modi or send him an appeal regarding the issue of territorial waters and fishing?

We do not want to meet him as NAFSO. However, the Northern Province Fisher People's Unity will hand a memorandum to the Indian prime minister. At the same time, our fishermen in Jaffna will present a petition on the issue of land and Indian boats.

Is your organisation planning to show Modi the situation Sri Lankan fishermen live in the northeast?

Tomorrow, a demonstration will be held in Jaffna to highlight the miserable situation of the camps for internally displaced people(IDP). The local branch of the Northern Province Fisher People's Unity will take part in the event.

What do you expect from the Indian prime minister, especially with regards to fishermen affected by the conflict?

The fishermen victims of the civil war want to go back to work and take charge of their lives. For this to happen, they need to return to their places of origin. 

Therefore, they hope Modi will touch these issues and find an amicable solution to the dispute that involve Indian fishermen.