Poaching Row

February 16, 2011 (AFP) – Sri Lanka arrested 112 Indian fishermen accused of poaching off the island’s north, officials said Wednesday, stoking tensions between the two countries over the narrow strip of sea dividing them. Sri Lankan fishermen were barred from operating along the Palk Strait for decades when troops battled Tamil Tiger rebels, but after the ethnic war ended in May 2009 with the crushing of the guerrillas, fishing has been allowed.

This has led to increased clashes between fishermen from the two countries competing for the prawn-rich fishing grounds. Local fishermen seized the Indians on Tuesday and handed them over to the local police, the force’s spokesman Prishantha Jayakody said.

“We are taking the Indian fishermen before a magistrate later today and will charge them with illegally entering our territorial waters,” Jayakody said. “There is a total of 112 Indian fishermen in police custody.”

The mass arrest came as tension rose along the murky waters of the Palk Strait separating the South Asian neighbours, with the killing last month of two Indian fishermen.

Indian authorities accused Sri Lanka’s navy of gunning down the Indians while Colombo flatly denied its navy fired at the intrudi