India frees 37 Pakistani fishermen

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iol news pic Fishermen DEL01_INDIA_0529_11 REUTERS Released Indian fishermen sit inside a train coach as they head home, after they were released by Pakistan, at a railway station in the western Indian city of Ahmedabad. REUTERS/Amit Dave

Lahore, Pakistan - India freed 37 Pakistani fishermen held for almost 16 months and handed them over to authorities in their home country Friday, officials said, days after a prisoner release by Islamabad.

On Sunday, Pakistan freed 151 Indian prisoners and returned 57 fishing boats as a goodwill gesture ahead of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif's attendance at Narendra Modi's swearing-in as India prime minister.

New Delhi responded by handing over the Pakistani fishermen at the Wagah border crossing.

“We have received 32 fishermen and five civilian prisoners from India,” a paramilitary Rangers official, Asif Ali, told AFP.

Pakistan's foreign ministry in a statement said that at least “484 Pakistani prisoners (348 civilian and 136 fishermen) still remain lodged in Indian jails”.

“Out of these, 25 civil prisoners have completed their sentence and await repatriation,” it said, adding “it is our hope that the government of India would release all Pakistani prisoners who have completed their sentences”.

Fishermen from both countries are frequently held for straying across the disputed and poorly defined maritime boundary in the Arabian Sea.

The two countries periodically release batches of each other's fishermen from their jails as goodwill gestures.

Those released on Friday spent nearly 16 months in different Indian jails and said they had not been mistreated.

Modi was sworn in as India's premier on Monday and the next day held landmark talks with his Pakistani counterpart Sharif.

It is the first time an Indian prime minister had hosted a Pakistani leader for official talks in Delhi since a rupture in relations that followed the 2008 attacks in Mumbai that killed 166 people.

Sapa-AFP


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