Chandy stays away from controversy on Cardinal's remark

Chandy stays away from controversy on Cardinal's remark

Kerala Chief Minister Oommen Chandy today refused to be drawn into the controversy over the reported statement of Cardinal of Syro Malabar Church Mar George Alancherry on the killing of two Indian fishermen by Italian marines.

"As the Syro Malabar Church itself had refuted the remark, I am not saying anything on the matter," Chandy said when his comment was sought during a Cabinet briefing here.

He was reacting to the report by Catholic news agency 'Fides' in which Alancherry was quoted as having appealed to the state authorities not to resort to "precipitate action" and warned the Opposition against trying to "exploit the situation".

Opposition leader in Kerala Assembly V S Achuthanandan said the statement of the Cardinal was condemnable, if he had made such a remark.

"If the statement was true, it showed that the Cardinal was with the persons who killed and not with the victims. The Cardinal tried to justify the incident more than the Italian authorities," he said.

Referring to the remark that the Opposition would try to "exploit" the situation, he said it was unexpected that such an "irresponsible statement came from a person like the Cardinal".

Meanwhile, the Syro Malabar Church refuted the remarks attributed to Allencherry and said the Cardinal was keen that both India and Italy resolve the matter in a "peaceful and amicable" manner.

A spokesman of the church, Father Paul Thelekat, told PTI in Kochi that he had spoken to the Cardinal following the controversy over his reported statement. "The Cardinal did talk to the news agency. But all that he had told was that the killing of two Indian fishermen by the Italians was a tragedy and a regrettable affair. He wanted both India and Italy to resolve the matter in an amicable manner," Thelekat said.

"In the episode, of course, there were errors, since the fishermen were mistaken for pirates. But ... it seems that the opposition party wants to take advantage of the situation and exploit the case for electoral reasons, speaking of 'Western powers' or the 'will of American dominance'," the Cardinal was quoted as saying.

Thelekat said the Cardinal had told him that he had never contacted any minister on the matter nor had he any plans to mediate in the affair.

He had also clarified that since he was a representative of the Church, he did not want to interfere with diplomatic negotiations that were taking place between the two countries.

The two Italian marines, who fired at the Indian fishing boat killing two fishermen on February 15, have since been arrested and are in police custody.