Former Sri Lankan Envoy Warns: India’s Crossing of Sea Boundary Risks Sovereignty Violation in Katchatheevu Issue

Former Sri Lankan Envoy Warns: India's Crossing of Sea Boundary Risks Sovereignty Violation in Katchatheevu Issue

Prior to the general elections, the BJP was trying to rekindle the decades-old Katchatheevu controversy. Former Sri Lankan ambassador to India Austin Fernando said that while the party may have used a “vote-puller,” it would be difficult for the Indian government to back down after the elections, which is a “problem.”

Fernando, a highly regarded and seasoned official, was on the phone with The Indian Express on Wednesday from Colombo. In reference to remarks made by Sri Lankan President Ranasinghe Premadasa regarding the Indian Peacekeeping Force in the late 1980s, he warned that the Indian government would be considered to have violated Sri Lankan sovereignty if it crossed the country’s marine international border line.

Will India allow such maritime incursion near Goa if Pakistan offers it? Or what will be India’s response if Bangladesh tries something similar in the Bay of Bengal?,” said Fernando, the Sri Lankan High Commissioner to India from 2018 to 2020.

In 1974, Sri Lanka acquired possession of the little island of Katchatheevu from India. Prime Minister Narendra Modi has now accused the Indira Gandhi administration of “callously giving it away” to Sri Lanka, just weeks before the Lok Sabha election in Tamil Nadu.

“[External Affairs] Minister Jaishankar might say, ‘Well, let us have the fishing rights in the Katchatheevu area,’ to appease the Tamil Nadu voters. Another question is if it can be done successfully. Who would be in charge of any matters? “Don’t tell us it’s the Indian Coast Guard,” exclaimed Fernando, a former defense secretary of Sri Lanka.

Fernando stated, “A fair portion of the votes cast by northern fishermen for the government will be reduced if the Sri Lankan government caves in.”

It will be viewed as a breach of Sri Lankan sovereignty if the Indian government crosses the country’s marine international border. Remember that President Premadasa adopted that position during the IPKF’s visit, he remarked.

Fernando, 81, has served in the Sri Lankan government in a number of high-level roles, including those of Home Secretary, Defense Secretary, Governor of the Eastern Province, Advisor to the Prime Minister, and Secretary to the President. He has collaborated with Prime Ministers and Presidents of Sri Lanka from opposing political parties over his remarkable nearly six-decade career.

He remarked, “I am mindful of the fact that India helped Sri Lanka during the economic difficulty by extending $4 billion and supporting us at the International Monetary Fund,” in reference to the financial assistance given by the Indian government during the nation’s economic crisis. Our government has diplomatic responsibility to remain silent, as they will be considering that. I believe that this should not have been brought up at all given the challenging circumstances that our nation is currently facing and the current political climate. However, I recognize that now might be the best time for the BJP.

“The Opposition here is critical of Indian investments and this will fuel more criticism, creating another difficult political environment,” he said, referring to India’s involvement in Sri Lanka.

According to former Indian and Sri Lankan officials who spoke with The Indian Express on Tuesday, the agreements were reached “in good faith,” with both parties having “won some” and “lost some.” Diplomats from India who had previously dealt with Sri Lanka have also emphasized that Delhi was able to gain access to Wadge Bank and its huge resources.

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