Sri Lankas Fisheries Minister Douglas Devananda wants fishermen from Tamil Nadu to attend the annual church feast at the Kachchatheevu Island, adding that he would speak to the government and make arrangements to accommodate the Indian devotees to attend the feast.
“In the backdrop of ongoing strained relationship between the Indian and Sri Lankan fishermen, the Fisheries Minister is on the opinion that it would be good to allow the fishermen from both parties to join the church feast,” Devananda’s media spokesman Nelson Edirisinghe told IANS.
“This would be a good meeting point for the both parties,” he said.
Fishermen from northern Sri Lanka and Tamil Nadu have been accusing each other for poaching in their territories.
Amidst the Covid-19 pandemic, Sri Lankan health authorities, the Catholic Church and government officials on January 30 decided to have the church feast without Indian devotees.
The feast on March 11-12 is scheduled to be conducted with the participation of only 500 Sri Lankan devotees from the two Northern Sri Lankan Roman Catholic dioceses, Jaffna and Manner.
However Indian pilgrims and fisheries bodies have protested against Sri Lanka’s decision and on Friday Tamil Nadu Chief Minister M. K. Stalin had requested External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar to urge the island’s government to enable the participation of the devotees in the annual feast of St Anthony’s Church in Katchatheevu.
In a letter to Jaishankar, Stalin requested the Centre to intervene in the issue.
“The news of denial by Sri Lankan authorities has caused deep disappointment among the fishermen community in the state. I am sure that your efforts will ensure good relations between the people of both countries.
“The government of Tamil Nadu has been facilitating the safe journey of fishermen devotees of Tamil Nadu who wish to participate in the Festival. It has come to my notice that fishermen devotees of Tamil Nadu are not allowed to participate in the annual festival this year, citing various reasons by the Sri Lankan authorities,” he added.
Last year, the feast in the iland located half a nautical mile from the India-Sri Lanka International Maritime Boundary Line was cancelled due to Covid.
The feast is an annual meeting place for fishermen from both countries.
Katchatheevu an uninhabited island was a disputed territory claimed by India until it was ratified by UN Law of the Sea conference in 1976, where maritime boundaries and Exclusive Economic Zones of India, Sri Lanka and Maldives were demarcated and agreed to by all three countries.