March 16, 2015 / 1:07 PM / 5 years ago

EU-India summit off as Italian marines case rankles

NEW DELHI (Reuters) - Plans for the European Union to host a summit with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi have collapsed amid acrimony over delays to the trial of two Italian marines for murder in the 2012 killing of two Indian fishermen.

Italian sailors Salvatore Girone (R) and Massimiliano Latorre leave the police commissioner office in Kochi January 18, 2013. REUTERS/Sivaram V/Files

A spokesman for the Ministry of External Affairs on Monday confirmed that no EU-India summit would take place during Modi’s trip to Europe next month, when he will visit Germany and France, but the official declined to comment further.

The last India-EU summit was held in February 2012, days before the incident. An EU official said both sides were looking for a mutually convenient date for the summit, to be hosted by the 28-member bloc, that would allow for sufficient preparation.

The head of a European Parliament delegation visiting India expressed disappointment and said the failure to hold a summit would delay efforts to strike a long-awaited free trade deal.

“Of course we attach importance to the imprisonment under any circumstances of citizens of our member states,” Geoffrey van Orden told a news conference, when asked whether the case of the marines was behind the failure to set a summit date.

“We feel the process has gone on a bit long and should be expedited,” said van Orden, a British member of the European Parliament who headed the seven-strong delegation.

Marines Massimiliano Latorre and Salvatore Girone, part of a military team protecting a privately owned cargo ship, say they mistook Indian fishermen for pirates and fired warning shots into the water.

India’s Supreme Court has allowed Latorre to temporarily return to Italy for heart surgery, but Girone remains in India awaiting trial.

Indian reports say New Delhi has taken exception to the role of EU Foreign Affairs High Representative Federica Mogherini in the case, which has made headlines in her home country, Italy.

A European Parliament resolution in January called for the return of the marines and a change of jurisdiction in the case. Italy argues that the incident took place in international waters off India’s southwestern coast.

“It’s good for everyone to be fully aware of how much of an impact the unresolved dispute of the two Italian Navy officers can have on relations between the EU and India,” Mogherini told a debate on the resolution. “It is putting them to the test.”

On the issue of the Italian marines, the EU official said Brussels had consistently called for a mutually agreeable solution, in the interest of both Italy and India, based on international law.

Additional reporting by Adrian Croft in Brussels; Editing by Alison Williams

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