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India drops terrorism law in marines case

'Fruit of Italian firmness' Renzi says after task force meets

24 February, 19:02
India drops terrorism law in marines case (By Denis Greenan).

(ANSA) - New Delhi, February 24 - Prosecutors in New Delhi on Monday told the supreme court that they were in favour of dropping a request for two Italian marines accused of killing two Indian fishermen during an anti-piracy mission in 2012 to be prosecuted under an anti-terrorism, anti-piracy law. The possible application of the anti-terrorism law in this case caused major diplomatic tension between the two nations, with Rome saying it equated Italy with being a terrorist State.

New Premier Matteo Renzi said the decision not to apply the anti-terrorism law was "the fruit of Italian firmness".

In a statement issued after he led a meeting of Italy's task force on the marines, he said Italy would continue to push to have the case assessed by international bodies.

Speaking to the Senate earlier, he called the affair "absurd and shocking", saying the pair have been stuck "for too long" in New Delhi.

The premier said he had given them his personal guarantee to see them returned to Italy.

In remarks to the Senate before a confidence vote, Renzi said he had had a number of meetings and made several phone calls since being sworn in Saturday.

Renzi convened the task force, consisting of Foreign Minister Federica Mogherini, Defence Minister Roberta Pinotti, and Foreign Undersecretary Staffan de Mistura, Italy's special envoy assigned to the case, in one of his first official acts since becoming premier.

Renzi and Mogherini phoned the marines Saturday while Pinotti said "it's an unjust situation," adding "We must bring them home" and "they are in my heart" Rome has won backing from the European Union, which, like NATO, has said the case threatens worldwide anti-piracy efforts.

European Parliament Speaker Martin Schulz said Monday India should respect international law in the case.

Opening an EP session, Schulz said India should "fully and promptly" uphold laws and "especially" the UN Law of the Sea Convention.

"I share Italy's concerns on the longueurs and delays in the case," Schulz told EMPs, launching "an appeal to India to fully and promptly respect international law, especially the (1982) Convention on the Law of the Sea".

Italy is seeking international arbitration and has called on the United Nations to intervene.

The Indian foreign ministry expressed its approval of the decision not to invoke the anti-piracy SUA Act against the marines.

Foreign Ministry Spokesman Syed Akbaruddin said that the law that the marines would be tried under had been indicated by the government's legal experts and that "this is not a case of doing favors to anyone" but of making sure that those accused of crimes can answer to the charges within the Indian legal system. He went on to say that the issue was not a "bilateral one between India and Italy, or a multilateral one involving India and any other country".

"This is a legal matter subject to Indian laws," he stressed, expressing the hope that Indian authorities would be allowed to proceed without delay. The anti-terrorism law calls for the death penalty in the case of a guilty verdict, but the Indian authorities had already excluded the possibility of capital punishment, albeit after lengthy delays and many mixed signals.

This apparently means the marines face a maximum of 10 years.

Despite saying he was in favour of dropping use of the anti-terror law on Monday, India Prosecutor General G. E.

Vahanvati still requested that the NIA anti-terrorism police conduct the prosecution. The defence team objected to this.

It said the NIA cannot handle the case unless the prosecution is conducted under the terms of the SUA law, India's tough interpretation of an international treaty against terrorism and piracy framed after the infamous 1985 Achille Lauro hijacking when wheel-chair-bound American-Jewish passenger Leon Klinghoffer was shot dead and shoved into the Mediterranean.

This prompted the supreme court judge to adjourn proceedings Monday and set a new hearing for two weeks' time. "We have made our first step forward with the elimination of the SUA Act," said defence lawyer Mukul Rohatgi.

"Now we will present our reasons for being against keeping the NIA (on the case). "It's impossible to use the NIA without the SUA Act". Massimiliano Latorre and Salvatore Girone are accused of allegedly killing fishermen Valentine (aka Gelastine) and Ajesh Binki after reputedly 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.

The two marines have been living and working at the Italian embassy in India pending charges in the case.

Rome has argued that the marines should be allowed to return home after waiting over two years for charges to be presented - Monday's adjournment was the latest in a long string of delays in the case.

Italy argues India does not have jurisdiction over the case anyway as the incident took place outside its territorial waters.

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