India summons Italian envoy over marine killings dispute

NEW DELHI Tue Mar 12, 2013 11:18pm IST

1 of 2. Italian sailors Salvatore Girone (R) and Massimiliano Latorre leave the police commissioner office in Kochi January 18, 2013.

Credit: Reuters/Sivaram V/Files

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NEW DELHI (Reuters) - India summoned the Italian ambassador on Tuesday to protest at Rome's decision not to send two marines charged with killing Indian fishermen while on anti-piracy duty back to India to face trial.

India's Supreme Court had allowed Massimiliano Latorre and Salvatore Girone to return home for four weeks to vote in last month's general election, provided they returned.

They have not done so and on Monday the Italian foreign ministry announced India had not responded to its requests for a diplomatic solution to the case. It said there was now a formal dispute over the terms of the U.N. Convention of the Law of the Sea.

The two sailors, part of a military security team protecting the tanker Enrica Lexie from pirates, were accused of shooting the two fishermen after mistaking them for pirates off Kerala in February last year.

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

"Government of India states firmly that it does not agree with the position conveyed by the Italian Government on the return of the two Marines to India," an Indian foreign ministry statement said on Tuesday evening.

"The Italian Ambassador was summoned by the Foreign Secretary today and Government of India's position on this matter was conveyed to him in the strongest of terms."

"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."

India's Supreme Court said in a long-awaited ruling in January that the country had jurisdiction to try the marines, but Italy has challenged that decision, arguing that the shooting took place in international waters.

The sailors arrived back in Italy on February 23, a day before the country's election, after the Supreme Court granted their request to exercise their right to vote.

They had already spent Christmas in Italy, after a Kerala court allowed them to join their families for the holiday on condition they returned to India by January 10, which they did.

Italy's announcement the sailors would not return sparked protests in Kerala on Tuesday. Fishermen marched through the state capital Thiruvananthapuram and burned effigies of them.

"If the government fails to enforce its law, it will encourage foreigners to kill Indians and escape," said T. Peter, a protest leader. "The government should immediately use its power to bring the marines back and put them on trial."

Doramma, wife of Jelastine, one of the two fishermen shot dead, demanded justice.

"The monetary compensation the Italian government gave us does not compensate the loss we have suffered. The government should see that the killers are brought back to stand trial in the case in the country," she said.

(Reporting by Matthias Williams; additional reporting by D.Jose; editing by Andrew Roche)

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