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Marines death penalty would be 'attack on Italy'

MPs meet with pair accused of killing Indian fishermen

27 January, 16:33
Marines death penalty would be 'attack on Italy' (By Christopher Livesay) (ANSA) - New Delhi, January 27 - A delegation of Italian MPs were in New Delhi Monday to meet with Massimiliano Latorre and Salvatore Girone, Italian marines who may face the death penalty in India for allegedly killing two Indian fishermen, prompting one lawmaker to liken capital punishment to an act of war.

"(If the punishment is approved, it will be) an attack on Italy," said delegate member Fabrizio Cicchitto, chairman of the Lower House foreign affairs committee.

The pair are accused of killing fishermen Valentine (aka Gelastine) and Ajesh Binki after allegedly mistaking them for pirates and opening fire on their fishing trawler while guarding the privately owned Italian-flagged oil-tanker MT Enrica Lexie off the coast of Kerala on February 15, 2012. Italy has appealed to the Indian Supreme Court amid fears that India's National Investigation Agency (NIA) intends to prosecute the pair under a harsh anti-terrorism law that bears the death penalty, despite previous reassurances from the Indian foreign ministry that the marines would not face capital punishment. The Italian petition said the pair should be released due to long delays in the pre-trial process, following their arrest almost two years ago.

It also called on Indian magistrates to "immediately press charges without recurring to the anti-terrorism law," and to let the marines return to Italy to wait until they actually stand trial, judicial sources said.

The petition also complained that it is unclear whether the investigation has been concluded since no charges have been filed.

It also argued that invoking the anti-terrorism act would be tantamount to calling Italy a terrorist state.

Meanwhile on Monday, the marines said they were still doing their military duty. "We are soldiers, Italian soldiers. We must suffer with dignity," said Latorre, who met the delegates at the Italian embassy. "We hope to come back with honor". At the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland on Friday, Indian ministers assured Italy they would press their government for a decision on the law by February 3. Meanwhile the United States has reportedly expressed its support for Italy in the row.

The European Union has gone so far as to threaten India with economic consequences if the death penalty is not taken off the table.

India enjoys trade preferences with the EU, and bilateral talks to set up a free-trade agreement are ongoing. This would be one of the country's most significant trade deals, touching the lives of 1.7 billion people.

The value of EU-India trade grew from 28.6 billion euros in 2003 to 79.9 billion euros in 2011, and EU investment in India more than tripled between 2003 and 2010, European Commission figures show.

After seeing the marines, the Italian policymakers met with EU-28 ambassadors in New Delhi. All the EU ambassadors except one, whose nationality has not been disclosed, agree with Italy that the case of the two marines is an international issue, not just a bilateral issue, the MPs said.