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Sri Lanka to free detained Indian fishermen

President Rajapaksa orders release as goodwill gesture to India for abstaining from UN vote on alleged rights abuses.

Last updated: 28 Mar 2014 08:08
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Sri Lanka's president has ordered the release of detained Indian fishermen, to thank India for abstaining from a United Nations vote to investigate alleged human rights abuses during the island country's civil war.

President Mahinda Rajapaksa ordered the release of all Indian fishermen "as a gesture of good will in response to India's stance'' at the UN Human Rights Council meeting in Geneva, spokesman Mohan Samaranayake said on Friday.

Seventy-four Indian fishermen are held in Sri Lanka for alleged poaching.

India abstained from voting on Thursday when the council approved a US-led resolution to launch an investigation into the civil war despite the strong protests of Sri Lanka's government.

Members of the 47-nation council voted 23 to 12 in favour of the resolution, with 12 abstentions, following a heated two-day debate.

External solutions "rejected"

Sri Lankan officials on Friday attempted to claim the result was a moral victory, saying that the 12 abstentions and 12 "no" votes meant that a majority of the 47-member council did not support it.

"Those 24 countries who refused to endorse the US resolution have sent a very clear and emphatic message rejecting imposition of external solutions on Sri Lanka," Ravinatha Aryasinha, Sri Lanka's top envoy in Geneva, told AFP.

Sri Lanka's state-run Daily News reported Thursday's UN vote under the headline: "Majority against America". The paper also called the UNHRC vote a "moral victory" for Colombo.

President Rajapaksa, who rejected the UN call for an investigation against his country, said he was pleased that neighbouring India, which voted for a similar resolution last year, decided to abstain this time around.

"This resolution only hurts our reconciliation efforts," he said. "It does not help. But I am not discouraged. We will continue with the reconciliation process I have started."

Thursday's resolution is the third in as many years, and is also the more damning for Colombo which has insisted that its troops did not kill a single civilian, but has also resisted calls for an independent external probe.

The latest resolution asked UN rights chief Navi Pillay to probe actions of both government forces and Tamil rebels during a seven-year period leading up to the end of Sri Lanka's 37-year Tamil separatist war.

About 40,000 ethnic Tamil civilians were said to have been killed by government forces in the final months of fighting in 2009, a charge Colombo has vehemently rejected.

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