Tuesday, April 23, 2024

Katchatheevu row internal political debate, dispute settled 50 years ago, says Sri Lankan FM

Photo: M U M Ali Sabry

After a week of silence, Sri Lankan Foreign Minister Ali Sabry said on Wednesday that the political row over Katchatheevu happening in India was an internal political debate about something that was settled 50 years ago and there is no need to to revisit it.

“There is no controversy. They are having an internal political debate about who is responsible. Other than that, no one is talking about claiming Katchatheevu,” said Sabry. This is the first official reaction by Sri Lanka to the row in India.

Last week, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi sparked the debate with a post on X over the issue of ‘ceding’ Katchatheevu Island to Sri Lanka in 1974.

“Eye-opening and startling! New facts reveal how Congress callously gave away Katchatheevu….” Modi wrote on 31 March.

Katchatheevu island is a strip of land spanning just about 1.9 sq km in the Palk Strait, a stretch of ocean dividing India and Sri Lanka. It lies to the northeast of Rameswaram town in India’s Tamil Nadu state and the southwest of Sri Lanka’s Jaffna city. Both India and Sri Lanka had laid claim over the island since at least 1921 before they signed an agreement demarcating their maritime boundary.

It said that the boundary runs one mile off Katchatheevu’s western coast, effectively placing the island in Sri Lankan territorial waters.

BJP has accused Congress governments, led by Nehru and later Indira Gandhi, of giving up the island under pressure from Sri Lanka. Congress retaliated that PM Modi was spinning a “false narrative” to divert attention from his silence in the face of Chinese provocation.

On March 16, Tamil Nadu Chief Minister and DMK chief M.K. Stalin contended that Katchatheevu was ceded to Sri Lanka despite strong protests by the DMK. He asked the Prime Minister what steps the latter took to retrieve the islet.

In February, Katchatheevu was in the spotlight after fishermen associations in Ramanathapuram district boycotted the annual two-day festival, as a mark of protest against the Sri Lankan Government’s continuing arrests of Indian fishermen on charges of poaching.

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