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A plume of smoke rises above a building during an air strike in Tikrit March 27, 2015. REUTERS/Thaier Al-Sudani

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COLOMBO (Reuters) - India and Sri Lanka agreed to release fishermen in each others' custody, a joint statement said on Monday, a move that is likely to ease tensions between the countries which have held fishermen captive for crossing territorial waters.

After ministerial level talks in Colombo, Sri Lanka reiterated its demand to end the practice of bottom trawling, a technique that involves sweeping the sea bed for fish, and India gave assurances that it would gradually phase it out.

Critics oppose the method because the catch is indiscriminate and could wipe out entire fishing species, making areas unsustainable for fishing.

It was not immediately clear from the statement issued by the two governments and published on the website of the Indian Ministry of External Affairs how many fishermen were being held by either side, or for how long they had been detained.

Pakistan released 220 Indian fishermen in December as a goodwill gesture aimed at easing tensions with its neighbour.

The U.N. Convention on the Law of the Sea states that fishermen who cross territorial waters can be warned and fined but not arrested.

(Reporting by Sudarshan Varadhan in New Delhi; Editing by Alison Williams)

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