Kochi: Two Italian navy personnel, who allegedly shot dead two Indian fishermen off the Kerala coast last Wednesday, have been sent to police custody till February 23. They will then be remanded to judicial custody for the next 11 days till March 5. The order was pronounced today by a magistrate in Kollam district in front of whom the duo was produced.
Even as the proceedings were on inside the magistrate's residence - since the court was closed due to a public holiday, locals stood outside, shouting slogans and demanding death penalty for the accused. The protests continued even as the marines were taken away by the cops.
Police had arrested Latore Massimiliano and Salvatore Girone late last night after detailed interrogation in Kochi. The duo is part of the six-member security team of the oil tanker Merchant Vessel Enrica Lexie. A murder case has been registered against the duo.
But the arrests clearly don't seem to have put an end to the diplomatic stand-off between Indian and Italy that the incident had resulted in. Italian foreign minister Giulio Terzi on Monday warned of "considerable differences" with India over the alleged killing of the two Indian fishermen mistaken for pirates by the Italian soldiers.
"There are currently considerable differences of a legal character. Up to now I have not seen the co-operation between India and Italy that would be desirable and would allow a quick resolution," Mr Terzi said.
The stern statement by Italy comes just a day after what seemed like a diplomatic win of sorts for India after the Italians agreed to the surrender of their two marines.
The crew members, who were being interrogated by the police, had been asked to surrender by 8 am yesterday. But the process was delayed with Italy hardening its stance on the matter. Yesterday, an Italian delegation arrived in the national capital and met senior officials from the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA). Sources have told NDTV that the Italians tried hard for a concession, contending that the men held in custody were marines but India refused to budge from its stated stand.
"We had a fairly comprehensive discussion whereby we have explained to them the rationale of our position and the situation as it exists. We have also explained to them that as good partners and as External Affairs Minister S M Krishna had requested on Saturday, we hope Italy will cooperate with us in ensuring law of the land takes its course. We also requested them to fully cooperate with Kerala Police," MEA spokesperson Syed Akbaruddin told reporters yesterday.
The meeting between the both sides happened just hours after External Affairs Minister S M Krishna publicly urged the Italians to cooperate in the ongoing investigations.
"I have been in talks with the Italian foreign minister and the Kerala chief minister...the law of the land will have to take its own course, we have advised the Italians to cooperate with the Kerala law agencies to achieve an amicable solution. I am expecting the Italian foreign minister to come on the 28th," Mr Krishna had said.
The minister had indulged in some tough talk on Saturday, telling his Italian counterpart that the ship's crew must cooperate with Indian authorities. He later told the media that the loss of "innocent lives" could have been avoided had the naval personnel onboard Enrica Lexie been careful and exercised restraint.
The death of the fishermen has snowballed into a major diplomatic stand-off between both nations. Italy contends that the incident happened in international waters and hence, a case could not be made against its crew by Indian authorities. India, on its part, insists that the firing occurred in the contiguous zone that is well within its jurisdiction. The contiguous zone is a band of water extending from the outer edge of the territorial sea to up to 24 nautical miles or 44 kilometres from the baseline.
Ajesh Binki, 25, from Tamil Nadu and Gelastine, 45, from Kerala, were mistaken for pirates and shot dead by the crew of an Italian ship on Wednesday evening about 14 nautical miles off Alappuzha.
(With agency inputs)