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Italy recalls envoy; summons Indian ambassador

Wednesday, 19 February 2014 - 6:00am IST | Place: New Delhi | Agency: DNA
Rome attacks Indian judicial authorities' ' 'manifest inability' to handle the marines' issue.
  • Italian special envoy Staffan de Mistura (right) and military attache Franco Faure leave the Supreme Court after a hearing in New Delhi on Tuesday. AFP

Italy on Tuesday upped the ante in its standoff with India over the trial of its two marines by recalling its ambassador in New Delhi and accusing Indian authorities of "unreliable" behaviour amid reports that Italian government may freeze bilateral accords. It also criticised the Indian judiciary stating that Italy notes the "manifest inability of Indian judicial authorities in handling the case". The Italian ministry of foreign affairs also summoned Indian ambassador Basant Kumar Gupta to express Rome's "to express the bewilderment and profound disappointment of the Italian government" in the way India is handling the case.

In New Delhi, official sources said Ministry of External Affairs has not been informed by Italy about the move. "There is no need for the Italian government to inform MEA, if they are calling their ambassador for consultations," they said.

Italy's angry response came after the Supreme Court of India on Tuesday postponed the hearing in the case and asked the Central government to clarify by February 24 its stand on the dispute related to invoking of the anti-piracy law against the two Italian marines -- Massimiliano Latorre and Salvatore Girone -- accused of killing two Indian fishermen off Kerala's coast in 2012.

Announcing Italy's decision to recall the ambassador, Italian foreign minister Emma Bonino said, "The Italian government has ordered the immediate recall of its ambassador in India, Daniele Mancini, for consultations." Indian ambassador in Rome, Basant Kumar Gupta, was summoned to the foreign ministry and told that India was appearing to be drawing out the "affair" of the marines facing trial for allegedly killing two fishermen off Kerala coast two years ago. Italy's "dismay" over the prolongation of the trial was conveyed to him, Italian news agency ANSA reported.

Leading the charge against India was Bonino who said after the court had delayed the case for "umpteenth time" that "we cannot go and get them (marines) by military force" but "several initiatives" were open to the new Italian government to be sworn-in by the weekend.

Media reports in Rome said that the "initiatives" may include freezing bilateral accords and pulling soldiers from anti-piracy missions being undertaken by the Italian navy.

A Supreme Court bench headed by Justice BS Chauhan asked the government to respond by February 24 when it will hear the case again. "We want to know the decision taken by the government to decide the case," the bench said. Appearing for the Centre, Attorney General GE Vahanvati told the bench that the government is waiting for the law ministry's opinion which might come by Friday.

At the heart of the dispute is the decision of the National Investigation Agency of taking the case from the Kerala police by invoking the SUA (Suppression of Unlawful Acts against safety of Maritime Navigation and Fixed Platforms on Continental Shelf) Act.

But as section-3 (g)(i) of the SUA Act prescribes death penalty, decision had come under fire. Thus NIA subsequently worked out a solution to honour the sovereign guarantee given by the ministry of external affairs of not seeking death sentence for the two marines.

NIA after taking expert opinion from the union law ministry, decided to dilute the charges against the two marines and seek punishment under a different section of the SUA Act that prescribes a lesser degree of punishment. Italian government, however, has conveyed categorically that it does not want the marines to be tried under the SUA Act at all as it is primarily meant for the pirates and terrorists.

Counsel of the marines has also argued that as per the order of the SC proceedings against Marines were allowed only under the Maritime Zone Act, IPC, CrPC and UNCLOS. The NIA is now awaiting attorney general's opinion if it can do away with the SUA Act totally and charge sheet the marines under others provisions.

—With inputs from agencies

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