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'Innocent' marines sorry about fishers' deaths

Girone, Latorre deny all wrongdoing ahead of crucial ruling

06 February, 18:59
'Innocent' marines sorry about fishers' deaths (By Laura Clarke) (ANSA) - New Delhi, February 6 - Two Italian marines facing a trial in India for allegedly killing two Indian fishermen during an anti-piracy mission in 2012 on Thursday expressed their sadness over the deaths but denied all responsibility pending a decision by India's supreme court on use of a severe anti-terrorism law in their prosecution.

"We are sorry about the loss of human lives, but in no way do we feel responsible," said Salvatore Girone, who along with Massimiliano Latorre is accused of killing the fishermen after allegedly mistaking them for pirates and opening fire on their trawler while guarding the privately owned Italian-flagged oil-tanker MT Enrica Lexie off the coast of Kerala on February 15, 2012. "We feel sorrow on a human level, but we are innocent," he told journalists in New Delhi.

The pair said their sorrow was compounded by the fact that the fishermen were seamen like themselves.

"We both grew up in two cities on the sea and we are fishermen ourselves," they said.

"Like them, we are seamen". Girone and Latorre are waiting to find out if they will be prosecuted under India's harsh so-called Sua anti-piracy, anti-terrorism act.

This contemplates capital punishment in the event of a guilty verdict, although on Wednesday Indian media reported that the Indian interior minister had instructed the attorney general's office not to press for the death penalty.

The Italian government has petitioned the supreme court to rule out use of the law and for the servicemen to be allowed to return to Italy.

A ruling is expected on February 10. Rome argues that prosecuting them under the so-called Sua Act de facto equates the incident with a terrorist act - an accusation which Latorre said "pains us not just as servicemen, but also as parents and as human beings," said Latorre.

"As a professional Italian serviceman who fights piracy, I am very upset by this".

He was echoed by Italian Foreign Minister Emma Bonino, who on Thursday said the marines "are neither terrorists nor pirates".

Meanwhile government envoy Staffan de Mistura told ANSA Monday would be "not the day of judgement, but of truth" and set out three possible scenarios.

The first "is that the attorney general says that the police can press charges under the Sua Act. In this case we will oppose the decision with all our strength," he said.

The second "is that the prosecution proposes a different formula under the Sua Act, but which excludes the death penalty, in the hope of relieving international pressure," continued De Mistura.

"This too would be unacceptable for Italy because it contests the use of the anti-terrorism law," he said.

The third possibilty is that India further postpones a decision.

In this case, de Mistura said Italy would contest the move on grounds that official charges have still not been issued after two years and that it is time to bring the marines home. This is the government's top priority, Italian Premier Enrico Letta said Thursday. "From my window (in the premier's office) I can read the banner on the facade of the building that houses (newspaper) Il Tempo: 'Let's bring the marines home'," the leader of Italy's left-right coalition government wrote in a letter to the daily, published Thursday.

"It is a strong and legitimate desire. Above all, it is a commitment of our government," he continued.

Meanwhile the foreign minister stressed the importance of teamwork in efforts to repatriate the marines. "It is necessary to act coherently and in a disciplined manner with single messages," Bonino said, adding that this approach has won Italy support from the European Union and the United States.

"This was not a given, as India has profound relations with many European countries".