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PM vows to act as Italy refuses to send back marines

PM vows to act as Italy refuses to send back marines

New Delhi: A day after Italy refused to send back two marines charged with killing two fishermen off the Kerala coast, India said Tuesday Italy did not have a choice in the matter. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh said India will do "whatever needs to be done" to ensure the marines returned.

Foreign Secretary Ranjan Mathai said after meeting Italian ambassador Daniele Mancini at South Block: "Italy is obliged to ensure that the marines return to India in the time frame given by the Supreme Court."

The Italian envoy refused to speak to the media.

The Supreme Court in February allowed the marines - Massimiliano Latorre and Salvatore Girone - to fly to Italy to vote in the Feb 24-25 national election.

The apex court was given an undertaking that the marines will return in four weeks to face legal proceedings in India.

The Italian embassy Monday informed New Delhi that the marines would not return to India.

The marines on board Italian ship Enrica Lexie allegedly shot dead the two fishermen in February last year, mistaking them for pirates.

The Indian government said "that it does not agree with the position conveyed by the Italian government on the return of the Marines to India.

"The Italian ambassador was summoned by the foreign secretary and India's position was conveyed to him in the strongest of terms.

"It was conveyed to him that India expects Italy as a country that is committed to the rule of law to fulfil the sovereign undertaking given by it to the Supreme Court of India.

"It was only following this undertaking that the Supreme Court allowed the Marines to travel to and remain in Italy for four weeks and return to India under the care, supervision and control of the Italian Republic.

"It was conveyed to the Italian ambassador that the Italian government was obliged to ensure their return to India within the stipulated period."

The prime minister gave his assurance to a delegation of furious Congress MPs from Kerala amid opposition charges of "collusion" between the Italian and Indian governments.

Congress MP P.C. Chacko quoted the prime minister as saying that he would speak to External Affairs Minister Salman Khurshid and "whatever needs to be done through diplomatic channels will be done".

Khurshid said earlier that India was studying the Italian decision and that it was a "collective decision" to permit the Italian marines to vote in Italy.

"It was not just a Supreme Court decision but our country's collective decision. They did return after Christmas and we will respond after seeing what reasoning Italy has given," Khurshid said here.

The Italian decision was reportedly taken by its defence and justice ministries in consultation with the country's prime minister's office, the Italian foreign ministry announced Monday.

Italy claims the incident occurred in international waters and has been trying to get Latorre and Girone tried in Italian courts. India argues the killings took place in Indian territory.

The incensed wife of one of the dead fishermen demanded that the Italians be brought back to India.

Dora, wife of fisherman Gelastine, said: "This is a conspiracy at the highest level. The Indian government should ... bring back the two marines to stand trial in our country."

The other fisherman who died is Ajesh Binki.

A furious Kerala Chief Minister Oommen Chandy termed the Italian move unacceptable.

The Left Democratic Front in Kerala accused the Congress-led state and central governments of "colluding" with Italy.

"This has taken place because all the players in this ... colluded for this to take place," Marxist leader Kodiyeri Balakrishnan, a former Kerala home minister, told IANS.

The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) was equally critical.

"It was a planned strategy and looks like a diplomatic collusion between India and Italy," party spokesman Balbir Punj said.

"People who murdered two Indians are getting away scot free. We want to know under whose influence this is happening."

Another BJP leader, Rajiv Pratap Rudy, said it was "bluff and betrayal" by the Italian government and India should respond strongly.

"A big question arises over the role of the Indian government."

When the Italians were allowed by the Supreme Court to return to Italy for a second time (they went during Christmas and returned), Rome's ambassador here had promised that the
two would positively return to India.


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