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Seven more Indian fishermen held

December 08, 2004

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KARACHI, Dec 7: The Maritime Security Agency (MSA) ship Nusrat apprehended seven Indian boats with 41 crew members onboard for fishing illegally in the Pakistani waters.

An MSA release said on Tuesday that the boats were detained on Sunday last, adding that the MSA ship was on routine patrol in the Eastern Maritime Region when it spotted the Indian boats fishing about 200 kilometres inside Pakistan's exclusive economic zone.

The Indian fishermen had been warned time and again not to indulge in illegal fishing but they repeatedly enter the Pakistani EEZ to explore and benefit from rich fish resources at the mouth of the Indus Delta, the release said.

The detained fishermen have been handed over to Docks police for further legal action, according to the release. During the current season, the MSA has apprehended 59 Indian fishing boats with a total of 354 fishermen since September last, the release said.

INITIATIVE: Several local NGOs on Tuesday formed a committee to take up the issue of detention of fishermen by Pakistani and Indian forces at international forums, maintaining that the fishermen were being victimized by the forces deployed by the two countries in their respective territorial waters.

Comprising representatives from the Pakistan Fisher folk Forum (PFF), Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP), PILER and Aurat Foundation, the committee would meet on December 15 to discuss the matter and formulate an effective strategy for future course of action with regard to the release of all detained fishermen.

A decision to this effect was taken at a meeting convened by the PFF at the PMA House. The meeting was attended by various NGOs, including the Edhi Foundation, HRCP, PILER, Aurat Foundation and Madadgar. At present, 762 Indian fishermen are languishing in Pakistani jails following detention of their 125 boats. India is holding 141 Pakistani fishermen and their 20 boats.

Criticizing what they called, 'tit for tat' moves by the two countries' authorities, they NGOs demanded that an area of 50 nautical miles be declared 'free zones' for fishermen to allow sharing of sea resources. The fishermen, they added, should not be arrested while they were indulged in activities relating to their livelihood.

Anwer Kazmi of the Edhi Foundation said that his organization had written to President Musharraf and Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz, as well as of Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to seek a joint step towards the release of all fish workers detained by the two sides on humanitarian grounds. The Foundation, he added, had also offered that it could bear the expenditure of the fishermen's repatriation.

Rizwan Edhi pointed out that Edhi Foundation was extending all possible help to the Indian fishermen in Pakistani jails but there was no organization in India having taken a similar initiative for the welfare of Pakistani fishermen in Indian jails.

The NGO's appealed to both the governments to settle the issue once and for all. In this regard, they suggested installation of a watch tower or search lights in the controversial Sir Creek area to keep the fishermen aware of the Pakistani and Indian territorial boundaries in sea.

The international organizations of fishermen, including World Forum of Fisher People (WFFP), Pakistan Fisher folk Forum (PFF) and National Fish Workers' Forum India (NFWFI) have already planned a joint initiate to settle the issue of fishermen's detention.

The initiative provided for an effective campaign to force Pakistan and India to settle the issue on permanent basis. The organizations have recommended that the border security forces deployed in the area should issue complementary identity cards to fish workers after verifying the ID cards issued by their respective countries.

They have planned to take up the issue at the UN meeting scheduled to be held in June next year in Geneva. Pakistan and India have decided to release 362 fishermen - 112 Pakistani and 250 Indian - and their boats. However, the documentation process to this effect has not yet been completed. -APP/PPI