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Fury in Italy after UN calls marines case bilateral

Panels urge halt to work on refunding foreign missions

12 February, 19:09
Fury in Italy after UN calls marines case bilateral (ANSA) - Rome, February 12 - Italian politicians voiced fury on Wednesday after United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said the case of two Italian marines facing terrorism charges in India for allegedly killing two Indian fishermen on an anti-piracy mission was a "bilateral issue".

In the face of widespread calls for a reaction, Foreign Minister Emma Bonino said she would brief the Senate Thursday morning after Rome on Tuesday appealed to the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) when New Delhi prosecutors asked the pair be charged under an anti-terror law.

Premier Enrico Letta reaffirmed the government's "utmost" commitment to resolving the case and "bringing the marines homes".

Defence minister Mario Mauro, meanwhile, said the case must also be won within the UN and acknowledged as a global issue.

"On the case of the marines, the government has set clear two actions: one is the internationalization of the case, so the tug of war with the UN must be won for this," Mario Mauro said.

"One can't think it is a matter only between Italy and India, for one simple reason.

"It deals with two soldiers on a national mission, but which responds to a global society need, which is to put a stop to piracy and terrorism".

Italy's Permanent Representative to the European Union, Stefano Sannino, voiced satisfaction for the support Italy has received from the EU.

The Italian ambassador told an Italian parliament committee that Catherine Ashton, the EU high commissioner for foreign affairs, was doing "important work" for the marines.

"She expressed clear positions in the last (EU) foreign affairs council," Sannino said, adding she had done the same also "in declarations and in clear positions with the Indian authorities" after Tuesday's EU foreign ministers' meeting.

European Commission Vice President Antonio Tajani called India's bid to use the terrorism charge "shameful".

Tajani said the marines "were in the Indian Ocean to defend our trade rights. "Not recognizing their role as defenders of the law would have serious consequences not only in Italy, but in all countries involved in the struggle against piracy". NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen said he was "personally concerned" about the possible terrorism rap. Rasmussen said the case could have "negative implications" for the fight against piracy, in which both the EU and NATO are engaged with major operations against Somali pirates in the Gulf of Aden and the Indian Ocean.

Bonino said Tuesday that "The High Commissioner for Human Rights has agreed to assess (Italy's) petition". The marines have been unable to leave India, apart from two leave permits, for two years.

Italy claims their human rights have been infringed and has won backing from the European Union, which has said the case threatens India's relations with the EU and the future of international anti-piracy missions.

Massimiliano Latorre and Salvatore Girone have been living and working at the Italian embassy in New Delhi pending charges for allegedly killing Valentine (aka Gelastine) and Ajesh Binki after allegedly opening fire on their fishing trawler while guarding the privately owned Italian-flagged oil-tanker MT Enrica Lexie off the coast of Kerala in February 2012.

Italy has said use of the terror law equates Italy with being a terrorist State.

Ban dealt a blow to Rome's hopes of getting UN support late on Tuesday.

"It's better for the question to be addressed bilaterally, rather than with the involvement of the United Nations," Ban said.

His comments were seen as hand-washing by many in Italy and provoked an angry response.

The parliamentary defence and foreign affairs commissions requested Wednesday for the examination of a government decree on Italy's international missions to be suspended until Bonino reports to lawmakers on Ban's comments.

"The United Nations has once again confirmed its expensive uselessness with the secretary-general, a marginal, irrelevant figure on the world arena, refusing to make the kidnapping of our marines in India an international issue," said Maurizio Gasparri, a Senator for ex-premier Silvio Berlusconi's centre-right Forza Italia (FI) party. "Ban Ki-moon offends Italy by relegating the issue to the level of a dispute between our country and India, when we are faced with the arrogance of a pirate state with the respect to our soldiers".

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