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India 'may not press terror charges against marines'

'Considering using penal code, not SUA'

14 February, 11:41
India 'may not press terror charges against marines' (ANSA) - Rome, February 14 - India is re-assessing terrorism charges against two Italian marines accused of murdering two Indian fishermen two years ago, The Indian Express said Friday.

The government reportedly decided the justice ministry should weigh charging Massimilano Latorre and Salvatore Girone under the country's penal code rather than the draconian SUA law, India's tough interpretation of an international treaty against terrorism and piracy framed after the 1985 Achille Lauro hijacking, the paper said.

New Delhi, which has already taken the SUA-mandated death penalty off the table, appears to be gradually ceding to pressure not just from Rome but from the European Union and the United Nations.

European Union High Representative for Foreign Affairs Catherine Ashton will raise the issue again with United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon later Friday, while Italian Foreign Minister Emma Bonino will see United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay.

Under the headline "Law Ministry to examine if all SUA charges can be dropped," the Indian Express said: In an indication of a rethink on the contentious issue of charging two Italian marines accused of killing two Indian fishermen off the Kerala coast in February 2012 under the stringent Suppression of Unlawful Acts against Safety of Maritime Navigation Act (SUA), 2002, the government Thursday decided to seek fresh legal opinion".

"Opinion is being sought on whether all charges under SUA can be dropped," it said.

According to The Indian Express, Foreign Minister Salman Khurshid "favoured fresh reconsideration of the charge sheet, claiming the image of the country was taking a hit due to the impasse".

"Khurshid suggested the Law Ministry should be asked to look into the matter and suggest if only the Indian Penal Code can be invoked".

Bonino told the Italian parliament Thursday she would discuss the marines's human rights with UN rights chief Pillay, raising Rome's concern that Latorre and Girone had still not been charged two years after the shootings.

She also reported that UN chief Ban "assured me he would take action with the Indian authorities".

Earlier, Bonino had said she felt "great bitterness and perplexity" that Ban had initially said the case of the Italian marines was strictly a "bilateral" matter. Bonino argued that the situation "is not a question of a disagreement between two UN members but of a critical mass of countries raising a matter of fundamental principle".

Ban's position not only sparked anger in Italy, but reignited warnings that future participation in anti-piracy missions could be jeopardized if the matter is not resolved. On Wednesday Ashton warned that the case had implications for all Europe and for all efforts to combat piracy.

She was echoed by NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen, who said he was "personally concerned" the marines were facing terrorism charges. Rasmussen said the case could have "negative implications" for the fight against piracy EU countries have agreed to put further pressure on Ban over the pair, who have been awaiting charges for the alleged murder of Valentine (aka Gelastine) and Ajesh Binki after the marines reportedly opened 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.

"We now have the support of the European Union and NATO, the relationship is no longer limited to a bilateral dispute, the application of basic principles of the state of law is at stake," Bonino told parliament.

On Monday prosecutors in India told the supreme court they intended to charge Latorre and Girone for murder under the terms of a severe anti-terrorism law but stressed they would not seek the death penalty in the event of a conviction.

Instead, the pair could face a maximum of 10 years in jail.

However, Italy insists that their prosecution under the anti-terrorism law is unacceptable and warns that its application would equate the country to a terrorist state.

"They are neither terrorists nor pirates," Bonino said. The supreme court is expected to rule on the use of the anti-terrorism law on February 17.

The two marines have been living and working at the Italian embassy in India pending charges in the case that has stressed relations between India and Italy.

A long-awaited ruling on the charge is scheduled for Monday in New Delhi.