The government on Tuesday scrambled to react to Italy's sudden decision of not sending back two of its marines, who have been charged with the murder of two Kerala fishermen, and said the move was not "acceptable" to India.
The government on Tuesday scrambled to react to Italy's sudden decision of not sending back two of its marines, who have been charged with the murder of two Kerala fishermen, and said the move was not "acceptable" to India. The government also urged Italy to "honour the commitment" made to the Supreme Court of India and brushed away its suggestion of arbitration to resolve the issue.
"Italy is obliged to ensure that the marines return to India as per their assurance. He (Italian Ambassador) took note of our position and said he would convey that to Rome," Indian Foreign Secretary Ranjan Mathai said after meeting the Italian envoy on Tuesday evening.
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Italy on Monday had announced the two marines, Massimiliano Latorre and Salvatore Girone, will not return back to India, as had been assured by the European nation before they left Kerala to participate in the country's general elections. Supreme Court had given them permission to stay out of the country only till March 22. The two marines are facing trial for killing two fishermen off the Kerala coast in February 2012, mistaking them for pirates.
The Italian Ministry claimed India had not responded to its requests to seek a diplomatic solution to the case and there was now a formal dispute between the two countries over the terms of the United Nations Convention of the Law of the Sea.
India has conveyed to Italy that arbitration or International Court proceedings is not the issue at the moment. The main issue is of Italy honouring its commitment to the Supreme Court, the government said. Italy had suggested arbitration as a way to resolve the dispute and now it has 10 days to respond to India.
Meanwhile, Kerala Chief Minister Oommen Chandy has said he will register a strong protest against Italy. Chandy has sought an appointment with External Affairs Minister Salman Khurshid and sources said he has also written to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh about the issue.
With India calling the act a "betrayal" on the part of the Italian government, senior Italian journalist, Maurizio Salvi, revealed the two Italian marines are likely to be prosecuted in their own country, very much against India's wishes. "Italy had no choice," Salvi added.
"This is lack of faith on part of Italy. The Supreme Court of India has been betrayed. The Foreign Minister is doing the right thing by taking up the matter with the Italian authorities. Indo-Italian relationship has suffered damage with this (issue)," said senior Congress leader Mani Shankar Aiyar.
Amidst government's reactions to the Italian decision, the Opposition, while maintaining that the apex court has been betrayed by Italy, said the government did not argue the case firmly in the apex court. "The Italian envoy should have been pulled up," Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) spokesperson Nirmala Sitharaman said.
Her party colleague Balbir Punj slammed the government saying India is "soft" on the Italians. "They (the marines) were arrested and the fact was almost completely proven. These two are criminals, who are being protected by Indian government in collusion with Italians," Punj alleged. He added that the BJP will bring the matter up in Parliament and take it to a "logical" conclusion. He also claimed the discussions in Parliament will expose "the collusion between the Indian and Italian government".
While the other opposition party the CPI-M alleged that some foul play from behind the curtains by the state and the Central governments sabotaged the case, CPM MP KN Balgopal said, "It's a very serious issue. There is some conspiracy. The PM says it is not acceptable for India. It is a very serious issue and people are very agitated. We hope the government will take immediate steps to bring them back".
Delegations of angry Left and Congress-led UDF MPs met the Prime Minister separately to express anguish and demand his intervention in the "serious" matter. "We met the Prime Minister and took up the issue of the Italian marines. The Prime Minister told us that he came to know about this from newspapers. He assured us that he will ask the External Affairs Minister to look into this issue to intervene in this issue," CPI(M) MP MB Rajesh said.
Congress MP PC Chacko, who led the UDF-delegation, said, "More than saying whether this is acceptable or not, the Prime Minister has said that he will ask External Affairs Minister to take up this issue and use all diplomatic channels to bring them back." MPs from Indian Union Muslim League (IUML) and Kerala Congress (Mani) were also part of the UDF delegation.
Even as the Prime Minister assured the delegation that India will speak to the minister concerned over the issue, External Affairs Minister Salman Khurshid said he will go through Italy's letter before responding. "It was a Supreme Court decision but it's also a matter of our countries' collective decision. We cannot throw the ball in their court. Let's see what they have to say and what's their reasoning, after all they came back the last time," Khurshid said.
Meanwhile, the Italian media has quoted the two marines as saying that they are happy to remain in Italy and go back to work. One of the marines has told the Italian news agency ANSA, "I thank the President of the Republic, all institutions, the government and the Italian people who have always supported us with a great number of postcards that never made us feel alone. I also thank all those who have supported us through social networks".
However, back home in Kerala, the wife of one of the dead fishermen, Dora Valentine, claimed she has not received justice. "This should not happen to any other family," she added. In Thiruvananthapuram, fish workers unions organised a protest march to the Secretariat and burnt the effigy of the two marines.
The protesters shouted slogans denouncing the Italian government and their Diplomats in India. They wanted the state and the Centre to take strong steps to bring back the marines to India and try them under the laws of the country for the offence they had committed in Indian waters.Get access to India's fastest growing financial subscriptions service Moneycontrol Pro for as little as Rs 599 for first year. Use the code "GETPRO". Moneycontrol Pro offers you all the information you need for wealth creation including actionable investment ideas, independent research and insights & analysis For more information, check out the Moneycontrol website or mobile app.