India, Italy head for showdown on absconding marines

PM calls Italy’s refusal to send back marines ‘unacceptable’

Liz Mathew &, Elizabeth Roche
Updated13 Mar 2013, 12:03 AM IST
A file photo of Italian marines Latore Massimiliano (left) and Salvatore Girone (right) being escorted by Indian police outside a court in Kollam. PHOTO: AFP <br />
A file photo of Italian marines Latore Massimiliano (left) and Salvatore Girone (right) being escorted by Indian police outside a court in Kollam. PHOTO: AFP (AFP )

New Delhi: Italy’s refusal to return two marines to India, where they face charges of killing two fishermen off the Kerala coast, is likely to provoke a strong response from the Indian government.

add_main_imageIn the immediate diplomatic fallout, the foreign ministry on Tuesday summoned Italian ambassador Daniele Mancini to protest against the decision by the Italian government. A foreign ministry statement said it had conveyed to the ambassador that it expects Italy to fulfil the “sovereign undertaking given by it to the Supreme Court of India”.

“It was only following this undertaking that the Supreme Court allowed the two marines to travel to and remain in Italy for a period of four weeks and return to India under the care, supervision and control of the Italian Republic,” the statement said. “It was conveyed to the Italian ambassador that the Italian government was obliged to ensure their return to India within the stipulated period as per the terms of the Supreme Court order.”NextMAds

The two marines, Massimiliano Latorre and Salvatore Girone, were allowed to travel to Italy to vote in the recent elections there. They face charges of shooting dead two Indian fishermen after mistaking them for pirates off the Kerala coast in February 2012.

Italy claims that the incident took place in international waters and has been trying to get them tried in Italian courts. India says the shooting took place in its territorial waters.

Earlier in the day, external affairs minister Salman Khurshid told reporters that the ministry was studying the implications of the Italian decision, conveyed through a letter to the Indian government, claiming that New Delhi “does not have jurisdiction over the case”.

The Supreme Court has ruled that the case need not be tried in Kerala, and could instead be heard by a specially constituted court in Delhi.

A person familiar with the situation said the government was exploring all possibilities to put pressure on the Italian government. “There are a number of options. Let’s explore them one by one,” said this person on condition of anonymity.

The expulsion of the Italian ambassador could be an option India looks at later, this person said.sixthMAds

Lalit Mansingh, a former foreign secretary, said the Italian move would definitely cast a shadow over ties. “The Indian government will, I expect, take it up very strongly with the Italian authorities and impress on them that this is a serious breach of our judicial processes.”

India could say that the case should be decided by an international authority or a neutral arbiter if it wants to take a non-confrontational route because this is a case of differing legal interpretations, Mansingh said.

“Or India could take strong steps like impose trade restrictions, ensure Italian companies are kept out of bids for Indian contracts and hold the Italian government accountable for what has happened,” he said. Given the interest in the Indian economy among European countries, Italy could be isolated, he added.

As members of Parliament (MPs) cutting across party lines expressed their anger over the Italian snub, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh said the external affairs ministry would take up the matter with the Italian government.

Singh told a delegation of Left party MPs from Kerala who called on him that the Italian decision was “unacceptable”, members of the delegation said. The delegation met him to brief him about their grievances over the state’s interests being neglected in the Union budget and the railway budget tabled in February.

A delegation of Congress MPs from Kerala also met Singh over the matter. “There was a clear understanding that they would return. It’s a clear violation of the affidavit given by the Italian ambassador in court. The PM said we will have to use our diplomatic channels to see that they are brought back,” said P.C. Chacko, an MP from Kerala.

The Italian government’s decision is expected to cause trouble for Kerala’s Congress-led United Democratic Front (UDF) government, which is already confronted by stability concerns owing to its slim majority in the assembly. The opposition Left parties have accused the state and the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government of “colluding” with Italy over the issue.

Congress leaders admitted that the issue, which had aroused public outrage in Kerala, would be damaging to the image of the party and the government it heads.

“Our opponents will give credibility to their allegation that we are colluding with Italy because of our party president (Sonia Gandhi, who is originally from Italy). Although the state has done everything to prevent them from going out of this country and they left due to the Supreme Court’s intervention, we will be under criticism,” said a Congress MP from the state.

Kerala chief minister Oommen Chandy was expected to reach the national capital late Tuesday evening. “I will take this issue up with the external affairs ministry. We are also looking to take up this issue legally,” Chandy said in Thiruvananthapuram.

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First Published:13 Mar 2013, 12:03 AM IST
HomePoliticsPolicyIndia, Italy head for showdown on absconding marines

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