United Nations: UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon's spokesman has refused to be drawn into the controversy surrounding the two Italian marines facing trial in India over the killing of two fishermen off the Kerala coast
The spokesman's refusal to comment Monday came amid reports that the Italian prime minister has asserted that a "direct channel" had been opened with New Delhi raising hopes of a settlement.
Asked by a reporter if Ban had recently taken any initiative in the issue or if he still considered it a bilateral matter between India and Italy, the spokesman, Stephane Dujarric, said, tersely, "I have nothing to add to what he's already said on the issue."
Despite several high-level requests by the Italians to intervene, Ban has maintained that "it's better for the question to be addressed bilaterally, rather than with the involvement of the UN," according to reports in the Italian media. Ban's statement made in February last year was similar to comments made on his behalf by spokesmen in 2013 and last year.
Reports from Rome said Prime Minister Matteo Renzi told a year-end press conference last week that a "direct channel" had been opened with India and that it has raised the the possibility of resolving the almost three-year-old issue.
The Italian news agency, ANSA, reported that Italian Premier Matteo Renzi said, "India, a friend and ally of Italy, has in recent hours opened a direct channel of discussion, with statements that we've appreciated." ANSA added that according to Renzi India's statements about the case may indicate a new opening for resolution.
Although he did not give further details about the statements, ANSA reported, "Diplomatic sources said that he was evidently (referring to) remarks by Indian Foreign Minister Sushma Swaraj, who said shortly before Christmas that New Delhi was 'studying' an Italian proposal for a consensual solution to the dispute."
The agency added that Italian Ambassador to India, Daniele Mancini, was recently in Italy for two weeks of consultations.
The two marines, Chief Master Sgt. Massimiliano Latorre and Sgt. Salvatore Girone are accused of killing two fisherman off the Kerala coast in February 2012 while they were guarding an Italian tanker, Enrica Lexie, travelling from Singapore to Egypt. The Marines said they thought the fishermen were pirates.
Italy asserts that the incident took place in international waters and, therefore, the Marines should be tried in Italy or in an international court. India, however, maintains that it can try them because it says the killings happened in coastal waters under Indian jurisdiction and the victims were Indians.
Latorre and Girone have been out on bail and allowed to stay in the Italian embassy in New Delhi while awaiting progress in their case.
ANSA also reported that Latorre, who was permitted by Indian Supreme Court to visit Italy for medical treatment, "was successfully operated on to plug a small hole in his heart, a condition that is quite common and easily fixed with non-invasive heart surgery" last week according to doctors at a Milan hospital.
At his press conference, Renzi had urged Italian media and politicians to stay calm and not provoke a confrontation. ANSA quoted him as saying, "In order to resolve this issue it will be useful to maintain the tone appropriate to legitimate diplomatic and legal channels, without unnecessary displays or useless political initiatives - like some I have seen (undertaken) by ministers of preceding governments, which beggared belief."
Renzi of the Democratic Paty, who became prime minister last February has appealed directly to Prime Minister Narendra Modi to help resolve the issue.