India’s Singh Demands Italy Return Marines Amid Lawmaker Protest

By Bibhudatta Pradhan

Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh said ties with Italy could suffer if it fails to return two marines charged with killing fishermen in waters off the southern tourist state of Kerala last year.

Confronted in parliament by angry lawmakers, Singh said the European nation’s actions violated “every rule of diplomatic discourse,” according to comments posted on his official Twitter account. If the administration in Rome doesn’t “keep their word, there will be consequences for our relations with Italy,” Singh said.

India yesterday summoned Italian ambassador Daniele Mancini to protest the decision by his government not to send back the men who are due to go on trial in New Delhi. In a petition to India’s Supreme Court, the Italian government had guaranteed that the marines would return.

The prosecution of the Italians was the first attempt 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 that bribes were paid by the AgustaWestland unit of Italy’s Finmeccanica SpA (FNC) to secure the contract to supply 12 civilian helicopters to the Indian government.

India’s Central Bureau of Investigation today raided 14 properties in two cities as it probed the charges of graft. Among those being questioned is the former chief of India’s air force, S.P. Tyagi, the CBI said in a text message to reporters.

Finmeccanica Chief Executive Officer Giuseppe Orsi has been arrested on accusations of corruption and tax fraud. The company has denied the charges, as has Tyagi.

Piracy Operations

Mancini informed the Indian authorities that marines Massimiliano Latorre and Salvatore Girone “won’t return to India,” the European nation’s Foreign Ministry said March 11. The Italian government said India failed to respond to a request to negotiate a diplomatic solution.

The main opposition Bharatiya Janata Party has accused Singh’s government of working with Italy to end the diplomatic standoff.

The marines were acting as guards on the Italian-flagged Enrica Lexie tanker as it sailed toEgypt from Singapore, a route that includes crossing the Indian Ocean, where Somali pirates operate.

Their arrest triggered a diplomatic rift as Italy and India presented different versions of the attack. Italy has argued that the men shot the two fishermen in self-defense 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.

Ferrari SpA, the Italian sports carmaker, even weighed in, having two of its cars carry the flag of the Italian navy during the Oct. 28 Formula One grand-prix race in New Delhi.

India’s Chief Justice ruled in January that the two men could be put on trial, ordering hearings before a specially convened court in the capital.

To contact the reporter on this story: Bibhudatta Pradhan in New Delhi


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