In a reversal of its earlier stand, Italy is sending back the two Italian marines charged with the murder of Indian fishermen to face trial here. Italy said they would return in accordance with the Supreme Court's deadline, which ends today.
According to Italian news agency ANSA, which quoted Italy's Deputy Foreign Minister Steffan de Mistura, the breakthrough came after the Indian government assured the Italian authorities there would be no death penalty against the two marines -- Massimiliano Latorre and Salvatore Girone -- and that their fundamental rights would be protected.
Government sources here say that one key assurance India gave to Italy is that a fast-track court would be set up to try the marines.
Speaking to reporters this morning, Foreign Minister Salman Khurshid said that the law stands "firm" and added, "diplomacy has worked where many experts had it written off." He said that he would make a detailed statement in Parliament.
"The Italian government requested and received written assurances from the Indian authorities regarding the treatment of the marines and the protection of their fundamental rights," the Italian government said in a statement yesterday.
As the news came in, Minister of State for Home RPN Singh tweeted "India's tough stand as articulated by the PM and Sonia Gandhi has worked."
One of the deceased fishermen's wife, Dora, reacted to the development by saying, "We are grateful that the marines are being brought back. Now there should be a speedy trial and justice must be delivered in accordance to the law of the land."
The marines had been granted special leave last month by the Supreme Court to return to Italy to vote in elections after Italian Ambassador Daniele Mancini gave an assurance to the court that they would return. On March 11, Italy announced that they would not return, sparking a diplomatic furore between the two countries.
The Supreme Court restrained the Italian envoy from leaving the country till at least April 2. Italy said he has diplomatic immunity per the 1961 Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations; the top court said his immunity is void since he had submitted himself to the jurisdiction of the court by giving the undertaking.
The two marines are accused of shooting two fishermen they claim they mistook for pirates off the coast of Kochi last year. Italy says since they were in international waters on an Italian vessel, they should be tried by an international court. India maintains the incident happened in Indian waters, Indian lives were lost, and therefore they should face trial in India.