Italian commander defends India shootings soldiers

The commander of the Italian navy's landing forces defended two of his soldiers accused of shooting dead two Indian fishermen, saying the chance of them making a mistake were "very remote".

"They are elite soldiers, the best we have," counter admiral Pasquale Guerra said in an interview with Italian daily Il Giornale today.

"They are experts because they have taken part in all our main foreign missions... The chance of them making a mistake is very, very remote," he said.

The soldiers, Massimiliano Latorre and Salvatore Girone, members of the San Marco regiment, were deployed on board an Italian oil tanker to guard against piracy and the Italian defence ministry has said the soldiers believed the pair were pirates.

The tanker was sailing from Singapore to Egypt when the incident took place on Wednesday off the coast of Kerala.

The two men were escorted off the ship and arrested on Sunday and remanded in custody for two weeks as a murder investigation continues.

Guerra said Latorre and Girone would have been very familiar with procedure when their ship is approached by a fast-moving small boat.

"These types of situations have been played out again and again during training for the past 20 years. Nothing is left to chance," he said.

"All the procedures are repeated. From the radio call to the flashing of the Panerai reflectors. In an extreme scenario, first you show your weapon, then fire it into the air, then fire in the water," he said.

Guerra also said there was "no doubt" the incident happened 30 nautical miles from the coast in international waters.

Italian authorities insist that the men should not be prosecuted in India as the tanker, the Enrica Lexie, was flying an Italian flag in international waters when the shooting occurred on Wednesday off southern India.

Italy's defence ministry has said the Indian fishing boat behaved aggressively and was repeatedly warned before shots were fired. It said the officers fired warning shots and the boat left "with no obvious damage."

But India has protested fiercely against the deaths of the unarmed men and said that the suspects must face justice in local courts.

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