NEW DELHI/ROME: Two Italian marines arrived back in New Delhi Friday to face murder charges following a last-minute climbdown by their government.
The move leaves India savoring victory at the end of a bitter standoff, and has stirred anger in Italy and calls for Foreign Minister Giulio Terzi to resign. Massimiliano Latorre and Salvatore Girone touched down in an Italian military plane in the evening after being flown from their homeland, Indian Foreign Ministry spokesman Syed Akbaruddin told AFP.
Their arrival came after a shock decision by Italy’s government to drop its opposition to their trial in India for shooting dead two fishermen off the coast of the southwestern Indian state of Kerala.
The Indian government, which last week issued orders to immigration authorities to prevent Rome’s ambassador to New Delhi from leaving the country, hailed Italy’s U-turn as a victory for diplomacy.
Italy meanwhile said it had received assurances the marines would not face the death penalty if convicted, as President Giorgio Napolitano paid tribute to the pair’s “sense of responsibility” in agreeing to return.
Italy caused outrage in India by announcing on March 11 that Latorre and Girone would not return after they were given bail to vote in last month’s Italian election, reneging on pledges made at the Supreme Court.
But in a late Thursday night reversal which came only hours before a deadline for the pair’s return, the Italian government said it had received “ample assurances” from India that the marines’ rights would be respected.
“The agreement with India is that the case does not include any possibility of the maximum punishment being applied,” Terzi said.
“I don’t see a reason to” resign, he said, rejecting calls from center-right politicians for him to quit.
A spokeswoman at the Italian Embassy said the pair had been accompanied on the flight by Deputy Foreign Minister Staffan de Mistura.
Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, who had warned of “consequences” if the pair did not return by March 22, was among those expressing satisfaction at the change of heart.
“I am happy that the integrity and dignity of the Indian judicial process has been upheld,” he told reporters.
After Italy said the marines would not return, Indian authorities forbade Italian Ambassador Daniele Mancini from leaving the country, saying he had broken a written promise to the Supreme Court. Airports were even put on alert.
Diplomats said that the impasse was broken after an assurance given that the marines would not face the death penalty, which is only carried out in the “rarest of rare” cases under Indian law.
Italy had been insisting the pair should be prosecuted in their home country because the shootings involved an Italian-flagged vessel in international waters. India says the killings took place in waters under its jurisdiction.
Lattore and Girone are accused of murder after they shot dead two Indian fishermen they mistook for pirates off the Indian port of Kochi last year. They were serving as security guards on an Italian oil tanker.