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Italy goes on offensive after umpteenth marines delay

Growing international pressure on India to deal with Italy case

18 February, 20:30
Italy goes on offensive after umpteenth marines delay (By Sandra Cordon) (ANSA) - Rome, February 18 - Italy vowed Tuesday to pull out all the stops in pressing India to deal rapidly with the case - once again delayed - of two Italian marines accused of killing two fishermen while on anti-piracy duty.

Officials and the families of marines Salvatore Girone and Massimiliano Latorre were frustrated when India's Supreme Court announced the latest in a series of delays in the case that has been percolating without charges for two years.

Foreign Minister Emma Bonino said she would be urging a range of allies, from the NATO military alliance to the United Nations as well as the European Union, to press the Indian government to deal with the situation. The case is "not bilateral" but has international importance and thus, requires a coordinated response, Bonino said in an interview with Rai News. "We can't go and get them by military force" but "several initiatives" are open to the incoming government, she added.

She said she was even considering asking the Commonwealth group of countries to take an interest. Formerly known as the British Commonwealth, the body includes more than 50 nations, most of which were former colonies of the British empire, including India.

The marines "cannot be victims of delays and complexities" amid continued uncertainty whether India will press terrorism charges, said Bonino after the Supreme Court announced it was postponing until February 24. The court said that it wanted to give the Indian government time to deliver a written response about whether to prosecute the marines on the basis of a harsh anti-terrorism, anti-piracy law in the case.

The idea of using such a law caused additional outrage in Italy, as Rome said it would equate the country with a terrorist state.

Bonino immediately recalled to Rome Italy's ambassador to New Delhi for "consultations" and to show Rome's bitterness at the handling of the marines, who continue to live and work in India pending action in the case that has strained relations between the two countries.

Italian Defence Minister Mario Mauro said Indian authorities have hit "the limit" of Italian patience in the case.

"This measure is the limit and what's even bigger is the indignation that has hit the whole nation and cannot fail to spread to the entire international community," said Mauro. "There is no justice in this case. We are faced with ambiguous, unreliable behaviour on the part of the Indian authorities". Latorre and Girone 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. The EU is backing Italy and has said the case threatens the future of anti-piracy operations.

As a result, there was speculation India's justice ministry would ultimately bow to the pressure and choose to proceed under the country's penal code. Italy has already said it will consider international arbitration and Bonino said other options "are up to the new government" of Matteo Renzi, expected to be sworn in as Italian premier at the end of this week.

Those may include freezing bilateral accords with India and pulling soldiers from anti-piracy missions, observers said. Senior EU officials have said that the case has important implications for the fight against piracy.

On Tuesday, it repeated its warnings.

"We have stated clearly that we are very concerned, because if charges are brought under the anti-terrorism law as is currently expected, there will be important consequences for our fight against piracy," a spokesperson for the High Representative for Foreign Affairs Catherine Ashton said.

The marines' partners called on the new government to bring them home. "We have never lost faith in Italy's institutions," Vania Ardito, wife of Girone, told journalists gathered for the opening of an annual national musical event in Sanremo. She and Paola Moschetti, partner of Latorre, were invited by the local authorities to attend a pre-competition press conference in order to raise awareness of the plight of the marines.

Said Ardito: "Our trust remains: they are the ones who must bring Salvatore and Massimiliano home".