Marines questioned as Rome probes into India case
Diplomatic row intensifies over fishermen shot at sea20 March, 18:56
The case, which has opened an international dispute between Indian and Italy, brought Massimiliano Latorre and Salvatore Girone in for questioning Wednesday as prosecutors moved to have a technical review of the computer and the camera aboard the Enrica Lexie merchant ship from where the shooting took place. Italy is refusing to hand the marines over to an Indian court for a homicide trial after the pair was granted a four-week travel permit to vote in Italian elections last month.
It was the second such good-faith permit. India gave a similar waiver during the Christmas season, after which the pair returned. Both times the men had signed a form vowing to return for trial. After the announcement last week the men would remain in Italy, the Indian Supreme Court ordered the Italian ambassador there not to leave the country while officials voiced their consternation and pledged to explore all diplomatic and legal options to bring the marines back to trial.
On Wednesday Prime Minister Manmohan Singh called Italy's behavior "unacceptable" and said it "casts a shadow" over the two countries' relations.
Italy has long argued 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. Italy has also called for an international arbitrator to assess the case.
In the meantime prosecutors here are moving ahead with their own investigation. The camera and computer aboard the ship where the incident took place are expected to provide details of the case previously unavailable to Italian authorities. "The conversations between the captain and the marines, as well as communications with Italian authorities, are recorded on that computer," said Rome prosecutors in a statement 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 accusations from 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". Rome prosecutors said 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. "Our officers did what they had to do to protect the merchant ship," said Admiral Giuseppe De Giorgi, the supreme commander of the Italian marines. "A judge must decide whether what they did corresponds with the law, but we're confident".