Manmohan warns Italy of consequences

Last Updated 13 March 2013, 21:32 IST

Amid uproar in both Houses of Parliament, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh on Monday warned Italy of “consequences” if its Navy personnel accused of killing two Indian fishermen off the coast of Kerala were not sent back to stand trial in India.

“If they (Italian government) do not keep their word, there will be consequences for our relations with Italy,” Singh told the Rajya Sabha and the Lok Sabha after both Houses witnessed uproar on the issue. The prime minister also said that the Italian government’s refusal to send back the marines to stand trial in India had flouted all diplomatic norms.  

Singh’s tough talk came after the Opposition led by the Bharatiya Janata Party raised the issue in both Houses and strongly denounced Rome’s refusal to send back the two marines, who were allowed by the Supreme Court to leave India and go home to cast vote in the recent parliamentary elections in Italy.

The two Italian marines, Latore Massimilano and Salvadore Girone, were arrested by Kerala Police on February 19, 2012, for allegedly opening fire at an Indian fishing vessel from onboard the “MV Enrica Lexie”, which was on its way from Singapore to Egypt.

The bullets shot from the ship killed Ajesh Binki and Jelestine, two Indian fishermen.
“Our government has already made it clear that these actions of the government of Italy are not acceptable. They violate every rule of diplomatic discourse and call into question solemn commitments given by accredited representatives of a sovereign government to our Supreme Court,” the prime minister told the Houses.

The SC on February 22 last issued an order permitting the two marines to go to Italy. The apex court issued the order after Rome’s envoy to New Delhi, Daniele Mancini, had submitted an affidavit taking “full responsibility” on behalf of the Italian government of ensuring the return of the marines to India four weeks later.

The Kerala High Court in December allowed the marines to go home for two weeks to celebrate Christmas. They returned to Kochi on January 4 last.   Rome, however, on Tuesday conveyed to New Delhi that since the two countries had a dispute on the interpretations of the United Nations Convention on Law of Sea 1982, Massimilano and Girone would not return to India now.

Earlier, criticising the Italian government’s move to backtrack from its commitment to ensure the return of the marines to India, Leader of Opposition and BJP leader Arun Jaitley said in the Rajya Sabha that the marines had “absconded as a result of a deception, an outright fraud”, which had been “practised on the Government of India and on the Indian Supreme Court by a sovereign nation.”

Jaitley also indirectly referred to Italian businessman and Bofors scam accused Ottavio Quattrocchi’s flight from Indian law in the 1980s and Rome’s refusal to share with Indian investigators information about the probe into Finmeccanica for alleged bribery in its UK-based subsidiary AgustaWestland’s deal to supply 12 civilian helicopters to the Indian Air Force.

He referred to the famous James Bond quote from Goldfinger: “Once is happenstance. Twice is coincidence. Three times, it’s enemy action”. The BJP leader said that the government should treat Rome’s move as an “enemy action” and respond to it with “all seriousness”. The Rajya Sabha was adjourned after the Opposition MPs trooped into the well of the House, raising slogans that the government must take strong action to ensure the return of the marines from Italy.

In the Lok Sabha, BJP veteran and former external affairs minister Jaswant Singh described the order of the Supreme Court to allow the marines to go to Italy to cast votes as “a rather strange judgment.”

“Do they permit a similar treatment to criminals of Indian origin? So, a question does naturally arise. Why was this special treatment given to these marines,” he asked, seeking a strong response from the government to Italy’s decision.

(Published 13 March 2013, 06:42 IST)

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