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Joint Press Statement on Release of Civilian Prisoners and Fishermen

New Delhi and Islamabad
March 6, 1999

In pursuance of the desire of the Prime Ministers of Pakistan and India that both sides release civilian prisoners and fishermen of the other side in their custody at the earliest possible, and as a follow up to the agreement reached between the officials of the Ministry of Interior, Government of Pakistan and Ministry of Home Affairs, Government of India, in their meeting in New Delhi on 13th November 1998, the delegations of Pakistan and India met in Islamabad on 5-6 March 1999 to discuss modalities for the early release of Civilian prisoners and fishermen of the other side in their respective custody.

The Pakistan delegation was led by Mr. Ahmed Jawad, Joint Secretary, Ministry of Interior, Government of Pakistan and the Indian delegation by Shri. Gurcharan Singh, Joint Secretary, Ministry of Home Affairs, Government of India.

Discussions were held in a friendly and constructive manner. Shri Gurcharan Singh and the Indian delegation also called on Mr. Hafeezullah Ishaq, Secretary, Ministry of Interior, Government of Pakistan.

The two sides exchanged lists of civilian prisoners and held discussions to reconcile the numbers of prisoners indicated by each side. They came to the conclusion that the exact number of civilian prisoners of each side in the custody of the other can be determined only after further investigations in the light of the fresh information exchanged during the course of discussions. They also agreed that in keeping with humanitarian considerations as well as the legal and administrative requirements of the two sides, the civilian prisoners, whose national status has been confirmed, and who have already completed their prison sentence, should be released and repatriated expeditiously. Accordingly, the Pakistan side shall release 18 Indian civilian prisoners and the Indian side shall release 43 Pakistani civilian prisoners within three weeks. It was further agreed that the process of verification in respect of the remaining civilian prisoners would be completed in a period of two months, so that at the end of this period, no civilian prisoner, who has completed his prison sentence and whose national status has been confirmed, remains in the custody of the other country.

Reaffirming their commitment to the Protocol on Consular Access of November, 1982, the two sides agreed to submit for consideration to the Ministerial Committee, set up by the two Prime Ministers, an improved mechanism to ensure release and repatriation of civilian prisoners on an individual basis following the completion of their prison sentence and availability of travel documents. This mechanism would involve, inter-alia, time bound action by both sides in completing procedures such as intimation of arrest, provision of consular access, verification of national status and provision of travel documents for repatriation on completion of prison sentence.

In the above context, a draft mechanism for submission to the Ministerial Committee for its consideration was finalised.

The two delegations also discussed the issue of fishermen of one country detained by the other. They reiterated their commitment that fishermen, who inadvertently stray into each other's territorial waters, should be released expeditiously alongwith their boats after necessary investigations are completed and travel documents made available. The Indian side agreed to release 26 Pakistani fishermen/03 boats and the Pakistan side to release 109 Indian fishermen/17boats, on completion of procedures. It was further agreed that the procedures in this regard will be completed within a month. As regards unconfirmed claims by both sides concerning their boats and fishermen in the custody of the other, it was decided that both sides would conduct further investigations and inform the other side of the results thereof.

Pursuant to the discussion on the subject during the meeting of the two Prime Ministers in Lahore, the Indian side conveyed details regarding 54 Indian Prisoners of War believed to be in the custody of Pakistan. The Pakistan side responded that according to its information there were no Indian Prisoners of War in its custody, but agreed to re-examine the matter afresh.

The two sides discussed the visa relaxation measures taken by India for reciprocal steps by Pakistan and the Pakistan side stated that several of these measures were already being implemented, while the remaining measures were under favourable consideration.