COLOMBO Sri Lanka's president ordered the release on Friday of 98 Indian fishermen detained for poaching as a "goodwill gesture" after New Delhi abstained in a vote on a U.N. resolution that approved an international inquiry into alleged war crimes on the island.
India, Sri Lanka's largest trade partner, backed two prior resolutions, but on Thursday unexpectedly took a neutral stand on the demand for a probe into actions by both Sri Lankan state forces and Tamil rebels during the 26-year conflict that ended in 2009.
"The president ordered the release of all Indian fishermen as a goodwill gesture," Mohan Samaranayaka, a spokesman for President Mahinda Rajapaksa, told Reuters.
A total of 23 states voted in favour of the U.S.-led resolution, 12 against and 12 abstained. Among those who voted against were China and Pakistan, while India withheld its vote over concerns that the investigation would be "intrusive".
Sri Lanka says poaching and illegal fishing by Indian fishermen depletes the catches of its own fishermen. The arrests have caused friction with India's southern state of Tamil Nadu and become a regional issue in campaigning for an Indian general election that starts on April 7.
(Reporting by Shihar Aneez and Ranga Sirilal; Editing by Douglas Busvine and Ron Popeski)