Italian Marines returning with confidence, lots of proof

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New Delhi, March 22: Two Italians Marines have returned to India with confidence and lot of evidence to support their action of shooting at the Indian fishermen on the high seas.

Massimiliano Latorre and Salvatore Girone are being escorted by Italy's Deputy Foreign Minister Staffan de Mistura on a military special aircraft. With the evidence gathered in their favour, the marines could serve their prison term in Italy. India and Italy have an agreement on the transfer of prisoners.

Whether they returned due to diplomatic efforts or the tough stand taken by the Supreme Court is a debatable subject. While the SC verdict is in the open, the diplomacy always is conducted behind closed doors and nothing will be revealed, unless one of the parties breaks the diplomatic code.

But one this is clear, the Italians have utilised their time in Rome to build their defence.

Latorre and Girone were grilled on Wednesday by Italian prosecutors, who also conducted a technical review of the computer and the camera aboard the Enrica Lexie merchant ship from where the shooting took place.

Italy has insisted that the marines, who allegedly mistook fishermen Jelestine Valentine and Ajesh Binki for pirates, should not be tried in India as the incident took place in international waters.

The camera and computer aboard the ship where the incident took place are expected to provide details of the case previously unavailable to the Italians.

"The conversations between the captain and the marines, as well as communications with Italian authorities, are recorded on that computer," said Rome prosecutors on Wednesday. "As for the camera, images are recorded there of what was believed to be a possible attack from pirates, as are the reactions of the marines". Prosecutors also quoted the sailors testimony in their statement, which contradicts charges framed in India.

The men said they "shot seven to eight rounds in the sea to discourage the approach of a ship that was different from the one showed by Indian authorities".

The images from the camera may prove what kind of ship was involved. Even if the marines did kill the fishermen, high-ranking Italian military have defended their actions as following proper protocol in territory known for pirate attacks.

But this is what the Indian Supreme Court said in its judgement in January about the jurisdiction: "While India is entitled both under its Domestic Law and the Public International Law to exercise rights of sovereignty upto 24 nautical miles from the baseline on the basis of which the width of Territorial Waters is measured, it can exercise only sovereign rights within the Exclusive Economic Zone for certain purposes."

"The incident of firing from the Italian vessel on the Indian shipping vessel having occurred within the Contiguous Zone, the Union of India is entitled to prosecute the two Italian marines under the criminal justice system prevalent in the country. However, the same is subject to the provisions of Article 100 of UNCLOS 1982. "

"Admittedly, the incident took place at a distance of about 20.5 nautical miles from the coastline of the State of Kerala, a unit within the Indian Union. The incident, therefore, occurred not within the territorial waters of the coastline of the State of Kerala, but within the Contiguous Zone."

However, Admiral Giuseppe De Giorgi, the supreme commander of the Italian marines says "our officers did what they had to do to protect the merchant ship. A judge must decide whether what they did corresponds with the law, but we're confident".

May be this confidence made the Marines to return to India and avoid diplomatic war between India and Italy. Italy is also facing a kind of political vaccum after a hung verdict in the recent elections.

Meanwhile, External Affairs Minister Salman Khurshid in his statement in Parliament said the Italian marines will not get death sentence as the Indian fishermen killings case was not a rarest of rare case. He also said they won't be arrested if they return before the apex court's deadline.

"The two Italian marines are on their way to India. Notwithstanding pending proceedings, the government has informed the Italian government that the marines will not be liable for arrest if they return within time frame laid down by the Supreme Court," Khurshid said in his statement.

Welcoming Italy's decision to send back its marines, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh said today that their return would be in accordance with the directions of the Supreme Court and consistent with the dignity of the judicial process in India.

"We are happy with the outcome. I welcome the return of Italian marines," Manmohan Singh told reporters as the marines accused of killing two Indian fishermen headed back to stand trial in India.

"The Italian marines are coming back in accordance with the direction of Supreme Court and it is consistent with the dignity of judicial process in India," he said.

OneIndia News

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