Italy-Indian row: Marines return to India for trial

Italian marines Salvatore Girone (left) and Massimiliano Latorre, arrive at a military prosecutor's office in Rome on Wednesday 20 March 2013 Italy at one point argued that the marines should be tried in their homeland rather than in India

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Two Italian marines accused of killing two Indian fishermen have returned to Delhi for trial, Indian officials have said, as diplomatic tensions ease.

Massimiliano Latorre and Salvatore Girone landed in an Italian military plane, accompanied by Deputy Foreign Minister Staffan de Mistura.

India had allowed them to travel to Italy to vote in last month's election.

When they failed to return, India's Supreme Court ruled Italy's ambassador was barred from leaving the country.

The Italian government said it had received assurances about the men's treatment and their human rights.

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Some, like former top diplomat Kapil Sibal, believe the decision to return the marines is a 'sorry commentary on the ineptness of Italian diplomacy', rather than a triumph for the Indians”

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The news of their return has eased diplomatic tensions between Italy and India.

"We have a valuable relationship with Italy," Foreign Minister Salman Khurshid said.

He said that the fact that the incident "did not derail our relationship, and that things are back on track and are normal is a matter of satisfaction".

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh also praised Italy's decision.

In a statement to parliament Mr Khurshid said that Italian requests "for diplomatic or expert level meetings" to consider the issue of jurisdiction in the case - "or whether it can be referred to arbitration or any other judicial mechanism cannot be accepted".

"I have made it clear that the Republic of Italy is bound to honour the solemn commitment that it has made to the Supreme Court to ensure the return of the marines to India within the time period permitted by the Supreme Court," he said.

The foreign minister said that the case does "not fall in the category of matters which attract the death penalty" and "there need not be any apprehension in this regard".

Marines Latorre and Girone are accused of shooting the fishermen off the Kerala coast in February 2012. They had been guarding an Italian oil tanker and said they mistook the fishermen for pirates.

The pair, who had been on bail awaiting trial, were allowed to fly back to Italy for the February 2013 general election on condition that they returned to stand trial by 22 March.

Italian ambassador Daniele Mancini gave his personal assurance that they would return within four weeks.

But Rome then decided that they would not fly back to Delhi, arguing that India was violating international law by putting them on trial, as the shooting had taken place in international waters.

Rome proposed putting them on trial in Italy.

The day before the men's licence was due to expire, the office of Prime Minister Mario Monti issued a statement saying that the marines had agreed to return during a meeting with Mr Monti and other ministers.

'Responsibility'

The BBC's Bethany Bell in Rome said the decision was a turnaround by the Italian government.

It had received "ample assurances" from Delhi, the statement from Mr Monti's office said.

"The marines agreed to this decision," the statement said, adding that it was also in the men's interest.

President Giorgio Napolitano said he appreciated their "sense of responsibility" and said Italy would remain by their side.

The Italian foreign ministry's decision 10 days ago not to return the two men had prompted a bitter diplomatic row, with Prime Minister Singh warning of "consequences" if it was not reversed.

The Delhi Supreme Court ordered Rome's envoy not to leave the country and airports across India were put on alert to stop him flying out.

Italy said restricting its ambassador's movements violated diplomatic conventions.

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