The decision underscored that the two-year-old case that has
frayed ties between the two countries was far from over — despite
Monday's move to drop the more serious charges.
"They will still be tried in India, under Indian law," foreign
ministry spokesman Syed Akbaruddin told Reuters. "It is not a
bilateral issue. It is about trying to ensure that those who are
charged with crimes against Indian nationals will be held
accountable under Indian law."
Charges have yet to be filed in the case, not unusual in India's
notoriously slow legal system, which spurred Italy to approach the
Supreme Court last month demanding a ruling for the marines to
return home. Italy also recalled its ambassador to New Delhi last
week in protest at the delays.
The sailors, part of a military security team protecting a privately
owned cargo ship, say they mistook the fishermen for pirates and
fired warning shots into the water during the incident in February
2012, off the coast of Kerala state.
Massimiliano Latorre and Salvatore Girone do not admit to killing
anyone. They are on bail, but cannot leave India.
There is wide public support for the marines in Italy, while in
India, protesters have marched through city streets to demand harsh
Indians in Italy, and the Indian embassy, have received hundreds of
threats demanding the return of the marines. Dozens have poured in
by post and email in the last few weeks, the foreign ministry said.
The embassy says it found a bullet in its mailbox in recent days.
Indian attorney general Ghoolam Vahanvati told the Supreme Court on
Monday the prosecution would not proceed against the marines under
the anti-piracy section of the Suppression of Unlawful Acts. He gave
The two men can still be tried under India's criminal laws, but the
punishment in case of a conviction is ordinarily less stringent than
under the piracy law.
[to top of second column]
India will still argue that the National Investigation Agency, which
handles cases related to national security, should investigate the
fishermen's deaths. Italy will likely ask for the agency to be taken
off the case, according to a member or the attorney general's team.
India's top court is due hold its next hearing on the matter in
Italy's new Prime Minister, Matteo Renzi, made it clear on Monday
that the issue remained a priority, promising the Italian Senate his
"personal effort" in the "absurd and infuriating affair".
The shooting was one of the most high-profile maritime incidents in
recent years in India. It highlighted the loosely regulated, and
growing, practice of placing private and military armed guards on
ships as protection against pirates.
There have been other incidents involving India, which is
strategically placed near international shipping routes. In October,
India charged 33 men aboard an armed ship operated by a U.S.
maritime security firm for allegedly failing to produce papers
authorizing it to carry weapons in Indian waters.
On Tuesday, the International Organization of Masters, Mates and
Pilots, said in a statement that the crew members were being
subjected to "inhumane conditions in an Indian prison".
(Reporting by Frank Jack Daniel; writing by Sruthi Gottipati;
editing by Ron Popeski)
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