Two Italian marines returned to India Friday to face trial for murder after Italy reversed a decision on shielding them from the charges. India had refused to allow the Italian ambassador to leave the country until the soldiers returned.
Two Italian marines returned to India Friday to face murder charges, ending a diplomatic spat between the two countries that snowballed into a rift after India barred the Italian ambassador last week from leaving the country.
Italy had earlier said it would not send the marines back to India, where they face trial in the killing of a pair of Indian fishermen. But following an acrimonious diplomatic standoff between the two countries, Rome reversed its position Thursday and sent the two marines back to meet a Friday deadline.
The marines, Massimiliano Latorre and Salvatore Girone, arrived in New Delhi on Friday evening, according to the Indian foreign ministry.
Responding to Italy’s decision to send back the two marines, Indian Foreign Minister Salman Khurshid said the decision had healed the rift between the two nations.
“We have a valuable relationship with Italy,” Khurshid told reporters, adding that the incident “did not derail our relationship”.
Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh also welcomed Italy's decision. “We are very happy the Italian government is upholding the integrity and dignity of the Indian judicial process,” he said.
But beneath the official responses and assurances that Indo-Italian relations were back on track, the latest diplomatic row appears to have soured ties between the two countries.
The crisis was sparked by a February 15, 2012 incident on the high seas, when the two Italian marines shot two Indian fishermen off the coast of the southern Indian state of Kerala. The marines, who were arrested by Indian authorities shortly after the incident, said they believed the fishermen were pirates.
Rome argued that since the incident occurred at sea, the case should be tried in Italy. But Indian authorities maintained the killings took place in waters under its jurisdiction.
Last month, Latorre and Girone were granted permission to leave the country to vote in the Italian general elections after their ambassador signed an affidavit personally assuring the court that the two marines would return to India after the elections.
But last week, Rome formally informed the Indian government, “Massimiliano Latorre and Salvatore Girone will not be returning to India upon expiration of the leave granted them”.
A day after this decision, the Indian Supreme Court barred Italian Ambassador Daniele Mancini from leaving India in a ruling that appeared to contravene the 1961 Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations, which states that diplomats shall "not be liable to any form of arrest or detention".
Quoting James Bond, opposition cites ‘enemy action’
Italy’s failure to send the marines back sparked a media-driven furore across India, with an opposition leader calling for an end to “diplomatic niceties” between the two countries.
Addressing parliament last week, opposition politician Arun Jaitley quoted the Ian Fleming character James Bond when he described Italy’s decision as “enemy action”. In the fishermen’s home state of Kerala, demonstrators angry with the Indian government’s handling of the case burned an effigy of Prime Minister Singh.
The February 2012 incident saw India and Italy locked in a dispute over the interpretation of the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS).
Italy argued that since the ship was on the high seas, exclusive jurisdiction of the case belongs to the “flag state” of the marine vessel, which would mean Italy.
The Indian Supreme Court, however, has rejected these arguments, noting that the February 2012 shooting should not qualify as an “incident of navigation”.
Targeting Italy, Sonia Gandhi and ‘Rome Raj’
Given the tricky nature of the case, many legal and maritime experts counselled third-party arbitration – either by the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea in Hamburg or the International Court of Justice in The Hague.
But as India heads for a critical general election in 2014, there has been little appetite among Indian politicians across ideological and party lines for an internationally mediated arbitration.
The opposition Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has long had Italy in their sights since the Italian-born Sonia Gandhi took over the reins of the ruling Congress Party. While Gandhi, the widow of former Indian Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi, became an Indian citizen 30 years ago, BJP politicians tauntingly refer to the 66-year-old politician as “Rome Raj” or Rome’s rule.
Over the past few days, BJP officials have slammed Prime Minister Singh for allowing Italy to treat India “like a banana republic”.
Relations between India and Italy have already been soured by corruption allegations surrounding a $748-million deal for the purchase of 12 Italian helicopters, which the Indian government is now threatening to scrap.
Date created : 2013-03-22