Two Italian marines charged with killing fishermen will return to India to stand trial in a bid to defuse a diplomatic rift between the two countries over the case.
“The Italian government has requested and obtained from the Indian authorities written assurances as to the treatment of the marines and the protection of their fundamental rights,” Prime Minister Mario Monti’s office said in a statement.
As a result of the assurances, the marines agreed to leave Italy tonight to return to India by tomorrow, the original deadline for their four-week home-leave. The Italian government said on March 11 that the two would remain in Italy, because India failed to respond to a request to negotiate a diplomatic solution.
India responded by preventing Italy’s ambassador, Daniele Mancini, from leaving, alerting airports nationwide to block the diplomat from departing. Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh said last week that there would be “consequences” for bilateral ties if Italian authorities in Rome don’t “keep their word.”
The Indian government has assured the Monti administration that the two marines won’t face the death penalty if convicted, news agency Ansa reported, citing Staffan De Mistura, undersecretary for foreign affairs. Upon arriving in India, the two marines will remain in the Italian embassy in New Delhi, Ansa cited De Mistura as saying.
The men at the center of the case are charged with shooting dead two fishermen in February 2012, while they were guarding an Italian-flagged tanker from pirate attacks. Italy has argued that the men shot the two fishermen in self-defense, suspecting them to be pirates, and that the marines should be tried in their own country because the incident occurred in seas outside of India’s jurisdiction. India says the attack happened in its territorial waters off the southern state of Kerala.
The attempted prosecution of the Italians is the first to hold armed maritime guards accountable for the deaths of innocent people in an anti-piracy operation. Relations between the two countries were further strained by allegations in February that bribes were paid by AgustaWestland, a unit of Italy’s Finmeccanica SpA (FNC), to secure a contract to supply 12 civilian helicopters to the Indian government.