NEW DELHI —
Italy has agreed to send back to India two Italian marines accused of killing a pair of Indian fishermen last year after mistaking them for pirates. The decision eases a diplomatic dispute that began earlier this month when the Italian government said the marines would not return to India to stand trial after a brief home visit.
India’s Supreme Court in January allowed the Italian Marines, Salvatore Girone and Massimiliano Latorre, to go home for four weeks in order to vote in their country’s elections.
Then, last week, Italy said the marines would not return to India. In response, the South Asian country barred Italy’s ambassador from leaving India - a move criticized by Italy and the European Union as a violation of international diplomatic immunity laws.
Late Thursday, the Italian government agreed to send the marines back to India after receiving assurances on their treatment and protection of their fundamental rights.
Indian Foreign Minister Salman Khurshid welcomed the decision.
"We have a valuable relationship with Italy. And that certain incident and the doubts that were created did not derail our relationship," said Khurshid. "[The fact that] things are back on track and normal is a matter of satisfaction."
Foreign Minister Khurshid told India’s parliament Friday that the Italian government had been informed that the death penalty would not be applicable in the case.
The Italian marines were guarding an Italian vessel in February of 2012 when they allegedly shot dead two Indian fishermen after mistaking them for pirates in waters off the southern Indian state of Kerala.
Italy maintains the incident took place in international waters and wanted the trial to take place in the marines’ native country. India says the fishermen were killed in waters under its jurisdiction.
Members of India’s ruling Congress Party, which is led by the Italian-born Sonia Gandhi, on Friday said the marines’ return is an example of successful diplomacy.
Indian Finance Minister P. Chidambaram hit back at opposition members who had criticized the government as unable to stand up to Italy.
"Ultimately it’s the government’s diplomacy that has succeeded, isn’t it? People know that it is the government which takes diplomatic efforts," said Chidambaram.
The Italian marines are now due to return to India Friday to face murder charges in an Indian court - charges they deny. The men will remain at the Italian Embassy in New Delhi.