Italian marines held in India return home for Christmas

ROME Sat Dec 22, 2012 7:00pm IST

Italian marines Salvatore Girone (L) and Massimiliano Latorre (C) arrive with Italian Navy Chief of Staff Admiral Luigi Pinelli Mantelli at Ciampino airport in Rome, December 22, 2012. REUTERS/Alessandro Bianchi

Italian marines Salvatore Girone (L) and Massimiliano Latorre (C) arrive with Italian Navy Chief of Staff Admiral Luigi Pinelli Mantelli at Ciampino airport in Rome, December 22, 2012.

Credit: Reuters/Alessandro Bianchi

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ROME (Reuters) - Two Italian marines on anti-pirate duty charged in India with killing two fishermen in February arrived home on Saturday for a family Christmas after India gave them special leave.

"Finally we are breathing the air of home. We have to thank all the institutions which made all this possible," said Massimiliano Latorre on arrival at Rome's Ciampino airport with his colleague, Salvatore Girone.

"Ten long months have passed and we really didn't expect to be coming back for Christmas."

The two sailors, part of a military security team protecting the tanker Enrica Lexie, are accused of shooting the two fishermen they say they mistook for pirates off the southern Indian state of Kerala.

The incident has caused a serious diplomatic dispute between Italy and India, which have traditionally had good relations.

The two non-commissioned officers had been out of detention on bail but had not been permitted to leave India until the Kerala high court accepted a request to allow them to return home for Christmas.

The Italian government has undertaken to ensure they return to India by January 10.

The men were welcomed at the airport by Foreign Minister Giuliano Terzi and Defence Minister Giampaolo Di Paola.

Prime Minister Mario Monti also called the two shortly after their arrival to reiterate the government's determination to reach a final settlement of the case.

(Reporting by Roberto Landucci, edited by Richard Meares)

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