Italian marines return to India for murder trial


This picture taken on Dec. 22 shows Salvatore Girone, left, and Massimiliano Latorre arriving at Ciampino airport near Rome.

The Italian marines accused of shooting dead two fishermen in India have returned to Delhi to stand trial for murder.

Massimiliano Latorre and Salvatore Girone flew back to India on Friday, 11 days after the Italian government announced they would remain in Italy, breaking its promise to the Indian supreme court.

Their return, seen as a surprising U-turn from Rome, followed assurances that the marines would not face the death penalty.

The Indian government agreed that "the case does not include any possibility of the maximum punishment being applied," Italian Foreign Minister Giulio Terzi told La Repubblica.

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Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh said he was happy with the outcome, which he called "consistent with the dignity of judicial process in India."

The return of the marines will likely mend what has become a serious rift between Rome and New Delhi, says GlobalPost's senior India correspondent, Jason Overdorf.

"But it remains to be seen how Italy's hardball negotiations will affect the sailors in court," Overdorf added. "In calling for India to respect internationally recognized ideals of human rights, Rome almost certainly was thinking of the right to a fair and speedy trial. And in India, accused routinely spend years in jail before their cases are ever resolved."

The case triggered a high-level row between the two countries. India went so far as to forbid Italy's ambassador to leave the country, a move that Italy claimed violated international diplomatic conventions.

Latorre and Girone themselves agreed to return, according to a statement by the Italian government, a decision that Rome said was in their own interests.

They are accused of shooting the fishermen on their boat off the coast of Kerala in southern India in February last year. They say they mistook the vessel for a pirate ship.