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India marines 'our first thought' says Pinotti

De Mistura says another trip to India 'not opportune'

22 February, 13:01
India marines 'our first thought' says Pinotti (ANSA) - Rome, February 22 - The drawn-out and contentious case of two Italian anti-piracy marines facing trial in India for allegedly murdering two Indian fishermen they mistook as pirates two years ago "is our first concern", new Defence Minister Roberta Pinotti told reporters as she left the swearing-in ceremony at the presidential palace Saturday.

Meanwhile Italy's envoy on the case, Foreign Undersecretary Staffan de Mistura, said there was no point his returning to India for Monday's supreme court hearing on an Italian appeal in the case.

"In the current circumstances we decided a fresh trip of mine to India was not opportune," de Mistura told ANSA.

On Friday Pinotti said the plight of Massimiliano Latorre and Salvatore Girone, held since February 2012 without charge, were "in my heart and in the hearts of all Italian people". "It's an unjust situation," Pinotti told ANSA. "We must bring them home".

Tensions have been rising over the affair recently amid uncertainty whether the pair might be charged under a harsh Indian anti-terrorism law.

On Wednesday Matteo Renzi, who became Italy's youngest premier Saturday, was said to be considering "new initiatives" after Italy recalled its ambassador to India, Daniele Mancini. Italian representatives to the United Nations raised the issue at the highest levels this week The meetings in New York were aimed at reinforcing Italy's concerns about delays in the case with UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, who had previously suggested it was a bilateral issue.

The sessions came on the same day that former foreign minister Emma Bonino, who surprisingly failed to gain re-appointment in Renzi's cabinet, said that she was urging the Speaker of the European Parliament, Martin Schulz, to intervene to help up the pressure on New Delhi. Officials and the families of Girone and Latorre were frustrated on Tuesday when India's Supreme Court announced the postponement of the appeals hearing until Monday, the latest in a series of delays in the case.

The marines 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 been seeking support internationally in the case and last week European Union High Representative for Foreign Affairs Catherine Ashton raised the issue with Ban.

Ashton and other EU officials, as well as NATO, have said that the case has serious implications for all anti-piracy missions.

Meanwhile, the spouses of the two marines met with officials and urged the Italian ambassador to refuse to return to New Delhi until the case is resolved.

Vania Ardito, wife of Girone, and Paola Moschetti, partner of Massimiliano Latorre, spoke after meetings with government officials.

Bonino "has secured the commitment of the new government for the release of Salvatore and Massimiliano," Ardito told a news conference.

Moschetti added that the women pressed officials to ensure there is "continuity" between the former government of Enrico Letta and the incoming administration in handling the case.

The marines "cannot be victims of delays and complexities" amid continued uncertainty whether India will press terrorism charges, Bonino said Tuesday after the Supreme Court postponement.

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 the tough anti-piracy and anti-terrorism law.

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

On Thursday the Indian government confirmed its embassy in Rome received hate mail and threats including a bullet protesting delays in the case.

"We have asked Italian authorities to ensure the protection of diplomatic staff," said Indian government spokesman Syed Akbaruddin.

"We are sure our Italian friends will guarantee the saftey of our diplomats," he added.

Akbaruddin reiterated that "diplomatic channels are open at the highest level between the two countries" despite Italy's decision to recall its ambassador to protest the latest delay in the drawn-out affair.