New Delhi, March 22: Two Italian marines accused of killing two Indian fishermen returned to India Friday to face trial, staving off what was turning into a bitter diplomatic stand-off between the two nations.
Massimiliano Latorre and Salvatore Girone returned following India’s assurance that they would not face the death penalty or be arrested on their return.
The marines returned to New Delhi in an Italian Air Force aircraft and were staying at the Italian embassy here.
Hailing Italy’s decision to send back the two marines to stand trial, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh said: “I’m happy that the integrity and dignity of the Indian judicial process has been upheld. We are happy with the outcome. I welcome the return of Italian marines”.
External Affairs Minister Salman Khurshid said diplomacy did the work and denied that any deal was stuck for the return of the marines.
“I want to clarify that there was no deal with Italy.”
Khurshid, in a statement in the Lok Sabha, said: “I’m glad that the matter has been brought to a satisfactory conclusion and the trial of the marines will now proceed as per the directions of the Supreme Court in its order of January 18, 2013.”
Earlier, the minister told reporters: “You should not write off diplomacy too soon. Diplomacy continues to work when everyone else thinks everything else has failed. Please give diplomacy a little more chance to do what needs to be done”.
“The diplomacy that we do in government is given a direction by the prime minister and the Congress president. For anyone else among us to take credit for it would be unbecoming,” he said.
Khurshid said the Supreme Court could be informed about the development next week as per legal procedures.
“The Italian requests for diplomatic or expert-level meetings to consider the issue of jurisdiction or referring the case to arbitration or any other judicial mechanism cannot be accepted,” he said.
He said India had clarified “that the nature of incident was not a case of rarest of rare for a death sentence”.
“We have not given away anything and are happy that the whole issue has come to an end,” he said.
Italian Deputy Foreign Minister Staffan de Mistura said that a “potential diplomatic crisis was avoided” with the return of the two marines following New Delhi’s assurance that they would not face the death penalty or be arrested after their return.
Addressing a press conference at the Italian embassy here, Mistura said: “The solution was triggered off by an official letter from the Indian authorities Thursday afternoon guaranteeing there will be no death penalty in this case”.
Mistura, who met Khurshid in the evening, said that in Italy, “death penalty is a serious issue for us”.
He said a special court to try the case as mandated by the apex court should be set up urgently and the trial expedited.
“We want justice, clarity,” he said, adding that Italy’s official position remains that two military officials acting on behalf of state in international waters should be judged in their own country.
Italy’s Ambassador to India Daniele Mancini had given an undertaking to the Supreme Court Feb 22 that the marines would return to India by March 22 after voting in the Italian national elections.
But March 11, Italy informed India that the marines would not be sent back, leading to a diplomatic stand-off.
Following this, the Italian ambassador here was restrained by the apex court from leaving India for reneging on his word.
The marines, posted aboard oil tanker MV Enrica Lexie on security duty, Feb 15, 2012, opened fire at a fishing boat off the coast of Kerala, suspecting that the boat carried pirates.
Two fishermen — Ajesh Binki and Gelastine — were killed in the firing.
Information and Broadcasting Minister Manish Tewari said that Rome’s decision to return the marines showed that India’s “gravitas is being recognised across the world”.
But the opposition, which had attacked the government for being soft on the issue, said the government alone could take credit for Rome’s change in stance.
“It was the combined effort of all opposition parties. The opposition persuaded the government, which then worked out a tough stand,” BJP spokesperson Rajiv Pratap Rudy said.
Communist Party of India leader Gurudas Dasgupta said: “The truth is that credit must be given to public pressure, the pressure created by parliament, international pressure, and also to the stand the Supreme Court took.”
However, in Italy, the move has caused anger among people, who have called for Foreign Minister Giulio Terzi to resign.