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Terrorism & Security

India bars Italian envoy from leaving, escalating tensions over marines shooting incident

India wants Italy to send two Italian marines accused of shooting Indian fishermen back to stand trial. Italy has refused, despite having promised earlier that it would.

By Staff writer / March 14, 2013

This file photo shows Italian marines Salvatore Girone, left, and Massimiliano Latorre, arriving at the office of Kochi's Police Commissioner, in Kochi, India.

AP/File

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India’s Supreme Court blocked the Italian ambassador from leaving the country today, further escalating a diplomatic dispute over two Italian marines accused of shooting two fishermen last year in the Arabian Sea, off the southwestern coast of India. 

India wants the marines – who were allowed to leave briefly after Italy guaranteed in writing that they would come back – to be returned to face murder charges in a special court in Delhi. Italy, however, has refused to honor that request.

“Italy takes this opportunity to inform the Indian government that, given the formal acknowledgement of an international dispute between the two states, Massimiliano Latorre and Salvatore Girone will not be returning to India upon expiration of the leave granted them,” the Italian government said in a statement on Monday.

In response, Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh told parliament on Wednesday that, "Our government has insisted that Italian authorities …  respect the undertaking they have given to the Supreme Court and return the two accused persons to stand trial in India.

"If they do not keep their word, there will be consequences for our relations with Italy," Mr. Singh said. His response was met by cheers, reports The Wall Street Journal.

India says the shooting took place in Indian waters. Italy contends it took place in international waters, and thus the marines – who have said they thought the men were Somali pirates – should be tried at home.

A post on The New York Times India Ink blog notes that the situation is complicated by the fact that ruling Congress Party President Sonia Gandhi was born in Italy and thus is suspected by some of being in the pocket of the European country. London's Financial Times reiterates that point, reporting that opposition members in India have “accused the government of colluding with Italy to allow the marines to abscond and have suggested that Congress … is beholden to foreigners.”

And furthering tensions between the two countries is the fallout from recent corruption investigation by Italy into a Finmeccanica helicopter deal with India.

Today, India's Supreme Court told Italian Ambassador Daniele Mancini that he and the accused marines had until Monday to explain themselves, reports The Financial Times. 

India government was 'naive'

In India, myriad editorials, tweets, and commentary largely condemned the government’s “naïveté” in allowing the marines to exit the country before trial.

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