Italy will send its ambassador back to India to help steer the case of its two marines - accused of killing two Indian fishermen in 2012 - towards international arbitration as bilateral efforts have failed, Defence Minister Federica Mogherini said today.
Italy has sent a note to India as it opens an "international procedure" that, unless the Indians cooperate, would inevitably lead to arbitration by an international body such as the UN, Mogherini told the Senate.
Rome has decided to send its ambassador to India Daniele Mancini back to New Delhi to mark the "fresh stage" in its efforts to have marines Massimiliano Latoree and Salvatore Girone returned, she said.
Mancini, who was recalled in February, will replace Italy's Special Envoy Staffan de Mistura on the marines issue.
He will oversee the "new phase" of internationalising the case, Mogherini was quoted as saying by ANSA news agency.
"I want to thank de Mistura for the dedication and indefatigable commitment with which he has followed the affair," she said, adding "we are mapping out a panel of experts under the leadership of a coordinator to pursue the new phase".
The prospect of international arbitration appeared inexorable, the minister told the Upper House.
"We are off the bilateral level, to raise the dispute to an international level: we are still willing to talk to the Indians", but "we have no other option than resorting to international arbitration", Mogherini said.
Rome does not consider the court proceedings in India "valid". "We do not accept a (future) Indian trial whose validity we do not recognise," she said.
The two Italian marines are awaiting trial over the killing of two Indian fishermen off Kerala coast in February 2012, sparking diplomatic tensions between India and Italy.
The marines, deployed on the Italian-flagged oil tanker MT Enrica Lexie, had contended they mistook the fishermen for pirates. They are now staying in the Italian Embassy in New Delhi awaiting trial.
Italy has requested Latorre and Girone be allowed to return home and the whole case be dropped.
Rome wants the marines to be tried in Italy, claiming the incident took place in international waters. However, New Delhi says it has the right to try the Italians as the victims were Indians on board an Indian fishing boat.
A special court on March 31 has fixed July 31 for hearing the case of the two Italian marines.
The Supreme Court had sought response from the Centre on the petition filed by the two marines challenging the jurisdiction of National Investigation Agency (NIA) to prosecute and probe the case.
The marines had moved the apex court more than a month after the Indian Government had decided to withdraw their prosecution under the stringent anti-piracy SUA law that attracts death penalty as maximum punishment.
The Centre on February 24 had told the apex court that the marines would not be prosecuted under the Suppression of Unlawful Acts Against Safety of Maritime Navigation And Fixed Platforms on Continental Shelf Act (SUA).