KARACHI (Reuters) - Pakistan began releasing 218 Indian fishermen on Thursday, police said, the second such gesture in a month that could begin to ease tension between the neighbours.
The men were arrested more than a year ago, accused of entering Pakistani waters in an area of the Arabian Sea where the border is disputed.
India is also holding Pakistani fishermen for the same reason, and Pakistan hopes its release will be reciprocated.
“They are being released by the orders of the federal government,” said Ali Hassan Setho, a superintendent of police in the port city of Karachi, where the men are being held.
“They will go via Lahore,” he said, referring to the Pakistani city near the main border crossing into India.
Relations between nuclear-armed neighbours have been more fraught than usual since a crackdown by Indian security forces on dissent in Indian-controlled Kashmir began in July.
Both countries claim the Muslim-majority region in full and rule it in part. India accuses Pakistan of supporting an insurgency against Indian rule in its part of Kashmir. Pakistan denies that.
In September, militants killed 18 soldiers at an Indian army base in an attack India blamed on Pakistan. Pakistan denied involvement.
Intermittent talks between them on a range of issues, including their disputed maritime border, have stalled.
In the past, gestures such fishermen releases have helped to improve the atmosphere for a resumption of talks.
Pakistan last released a batch of Indian fishermen on Dec. 25.
One of the men being released said it was good to be going home after a year.
“I‘m very happy that I’ll be reunited with my mother, brothers, sisters and my children,” the man who goes by the single name Kamlesh, from India’s western state of Gujarat, told reporters.
“I‘m excited to think that very soon I’ll reach there and see their faces.”
Reporting by Reuters TV; Writing by Mehreen Zahra-Malik; Editing by Robert Birsel