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Italy perplexed at UN's position on marines case

Foreign minister says she feels 'bitterness' over India

13 February, 18:09
Italy perplexed at UN's position on marines case (By Sandra Cordon) (ANSA) - Rome, February 13 - Italian Foreign Minister Emma Bonino told parliament Thursday she would meet with the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), Navi Pillay, in Geneva over the case of two Italian marines facing charges in India for allegedly shooting two fishermen during an anti-piracy million.

The government "initiated contact" with the OHCHR on Tuesday concerning the fact that servicemen Massimiliano Latorre and Salvatore Girone had still not been charged two years after the shootings, said Bonino.

She also reported that United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon "assured me he would subsequently take action with the Indian authorities" over the case.

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. Indeed, earlier this week the European Union's High Representative for Foreign Affairs, Catherine Ashton, warned the case of the marines has implications for all Europe and for all efforts to combat piracy.

On Thursday, Ashton said she would also raise the matter with Ban during meetings the following day. European Union countries have also agreed to put further pressure on Ban over the position concerning servicemen Latorre and Girone, 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.