12 Lankan fishermen sentenced in Myanmar
By Sulochana Ramiah Mohan
Following the sentencing of 12 Sri Lankan fishermen in Myanmar last week by its military government for encroaching territorial waters in January this year, Ceylon Today learns that the Foreign Ministry is struggling to contact Burmese officials to negotiate their release due to unrest since the 1 February coup that ousted Myanmar’s civilian leader Aung San Suu Kyi.
The 12 fishermen left the Trincomalee harbour in January 2021 and were arrested in February.
According to a reliable source, the Myanmar Police officer in charge had warned the Sri Lankan Mission not to contact them anymore.
Ceylon Today’s attempts to contact Foreign Secretary Admiral Colombage and Sri Lankan Ambassador in Myanmar Prof. Nalin de Silva for further information were futile.
However the Ambassador has posted several comments about the fishermen issue on his Facebook page. He has said ‘many people understand that he did nothing about the fishermen who were arrested and imprisoned in Myanmar. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs acts in a similar manner and he will not break their trust’.
Further he notes: “I know one thing. If the fishermen are released in any way, it is because of the relentless vision of a few Sri Lankans and the trust and respect that the Myanmar authorities have for them. If the fishermen were not released in any way it was because I did nothing.
He goes on to say that he did not answer every question asked by journalists about Myanmar fishermen. We will inform the Ministry of External Affairs of what we have done. Sometimes I work without informing the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and only informing the Minister and the President. He stated that these days Myanmar has lost its peace. “Many in this country, including the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, think that the Sri Lankan Embassy in Myanmar is useless. For example, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs does not at least acknowledge that the Sri Lankan Embassy did nothing on the issue of fishermen. I work tirelessly for the Sri Lankan Embassy in Myanmar. They also did an effective job on the issue of fishermen. But I’m sure they will not get the respect they deserve.”
Following their sentencing, the fishermen were transferred from the Police detention camp to prison but were returned to the camp due to widespread protests between civilians and military.
The relatives of the fishermen made a request to the Minister of Fisheries Douglas Devananda on 5 April urging him to intervene for their release.
The Minister told them that Sri Lanka has to liaise smoothly with Myanmar since it is ruled by a military regime at this time.
He assured them that he will talk to both the President and Prime Minster and look to resolve the issue shortly.
A reliable source said they may be transferred to prison after the road is no longer blocked by protesters.
The Police detention camp in Ayeyarwady is some 235 km from Yangon, where the Sri Lankan Mission is located.
Apparently, the Mission was able to contact the fishermen only once.
A top official said the situation is critical as even the case proceedings against Aung San SuuKyi are heard virtually.
It is speculated that the fishermen may receive a Presidential pardon on 16 April and be repatriated through the Sri Lankan Mission.
A Myanmar Court sentenced the 12 Sri Lankan fishermen to jail terms of three to five years on three charges on 5 March. They have also been fined.