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India-Italy row continues over marines' murder case

Italy refuses to send witnesses to Delhi trial

Swati Deb, New Delhi

September 19, 2013

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Italian officials yesterday refused to send four marines to India to give witness statements in the ongoing murder case against two Italian marines accused of killing two fishermen last year.

Indian officials have turned to the Law Ministry and the Attorney General for guidance on how to proceed with the investigation, which has embittered diplomatic relations between the two countries.

Italian Foreign Minister Steffan de Mistura, who was in New Delhi yesterday, expressed concern over the delay of the case but refused to send the four marine witnesses to India citing "political tensions" back home in Italy.

“It is an emotional matter in Italy. It will be difficult to explain that not only two marines are here [in India] but the other four will be also sent," Mistura said yesterday after meeting Indian Foreign Minister Salman Khurshid. 

Mistura suggested that India’s National Investigating Agency send officials to Italy to take sworn statements from the witnesses about what they saw on February 12, 2012, when Massimilano Latorre and Salvatore Girone opened fire on a fishing vessel off the Kerala coast.

Indian officials have claimed they cannot get involved in legal matters but have said they will enlist the help of the Surpreme Court to help resolve the problem of the witness statements.

The NIA has already questioned Italian civilian personnel who were on board the Italian vessel at the time of the shootings.

One government official who asked not to be named said the matter was likely to be taken up by the Prime Minister’s Office because of the sensitivity of the matter in India.

The official added that Italy’s foreign minister would likely have further consultations on the matter with his Indian counterpart and other top officials.

The Indian government earlier rejected pleas for a diplomatic solution, as well as declining a request to conduct the trial under the provisions of the UN Convention on the Laws of the Seas (1992).

The Supreme Court of India ruled in January this year that India had jurisdiction to try the Italian marines, despite claims by Italy that the incident occurred in international waters.

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