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Left party activists shout slogans during a protest near the Italian embassy in New Delhi, yesterday.
New Delhi: Relations between India and Italy remained tense after New Delhi yesterday warned Rome of “consequences” in bilateral ties over its refusal to send back two marines facing trial for killing two Indian fishermen, an action which Prime Minister Manmohan Singh described as “unacceptable”.
The Italian government said it was prepared to resolve the legal dispute according to international law as the marines were facing trial in a court in Rome.
The prime minister, taking a tough stand in parliament over the diplomatic fracas with a leading European power, said if Italy does not keep its word “there will be consequences”. He said Italy’s actions are “unacceptable” and “violate every rule of diplomatic discourse and call into question solemn commitments given by accredited representatives of a sovereign government to our Supreme Court”.
This was after Arun Jaitely, the Leader of Opposition in the Rajya Sabha, described the Italian response as “enemy action” and urged the government to “forget diplomacy” and respond strongly.
“This is an outright fraud against the government of India and Supreme Court by a sovereign nation. This is a case of state-sponsored abduction,” Jaitley said.
The Indian reactions came after Italy informed India that the two marines, Massimiliano Latorre and Salvatore Girone, would not return to India. They are facing trial for killing two fishermen off the Kerala coast last year, mistaking them for pirates.
India had summoned the Italian envoy, Daniele Mancini, on Tuesday and conveyed to him “in the strongest terms” that Rome was “obliged” to ensure the return of the two marines.
The Supreme Court on February 22 allowed the two marines to fly to Italy to vote in the February 24-25 national elections. The apex court was given an undertaking by the ambassador that the marines will return in four weeks to face legal proceedings in India.
Italy claims the incident occurred in international waters and has been trying to get Latorre and Girone tried in Italian courts, while India contends the shooting occurred in its own territory.
In a note on March 6, the Italian government had requested India to set up a meeting at diplomatic level in order to reach an amicable solution of the controversy. The request “is under examination” by India.
Responding to India’s stand on the standoff, Italian diplomatic officials in a statement said that Rome was ready to negotiate the case based on international law.
“The judgement by the Supreme Court of India on January 18 has denied Italian jurisdiction on the case and invited both countries to engage in a common effort based upon Article 100 of the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea,” the statement said.
“Italy has stated its readiness to start negotiations on such basis. Since there has been no reaction from India in this regard we have come to the conclusion that it is appropriate to solve the legal dispute according to the international law.
“The Note Verbale sent by the Embassy to the external affairs ministry on March 11 was intended to give the opportunity to settle the dispute through the consensual means offered to the parties by the international law with the aim of defining a legally sound solution to the case.
“This is consistent with Italy’s position since we have continuously advocated a settlement of the case according to the rules of international law on jurisdiction of the flag State and on functional immunity of State organs.
“Italy did everything we could to find an acceptable solution to such case, within the framework of our strong and friendly relations with India, and Italy will continue to do so. Legal proceedings against the two marines are still under way before the Court of Rome,” it said.
The issue has raised much political heat in India. Oommen Chandy, Chief Minister of Kerala to which state the two killed fishermen belong, met Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to discuss the return of two Italian marines. “The prime minister’s statement is very strong and we hope Italy will obey the Indian law,” Chandy told reporters.