India warns of souring relations with Italy

PM Manmohan Singh says refusal by Italy to send back marines wanted for killing Indian fishermen could strain relations.

    Manmohan Singh, India's prime minister, has said Italy's refusal to send back two of its marines facing a murder trial in India may strain relations between the two countries.

    Singh's comments on Wednesday came a day after India summoned the Italian ambassador to protest against Rome's decision not to send the two marines charged with killing Indian fishermen while on anti-piracy duty.

    "This cannot by any standards be in the interest of any bilateral relationship that has to function on the basis of
    trust," said Singh.

    "Our government has therefore insisted that the Italian authorities respect the undertaking they have taken
    to the honourable Supreme Court and return the two accused persons to stand trial.

    "If they do not keep their word, there will be consequences for our relations with Italy."

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

    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.

    Formal dispute

    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 UN Convention of the Law of the Sea.

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

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

    They were allowed to remain in Italy for four weeks. They also 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.

    SOURCE: Agencies


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