Shooting row: Italian foreign minister to push for release of Marines

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    New Delhi, (IANS) Italy’s foreign minister Giulio Maria Terzi di Sant’ Agata begins a two-day visit to India Tuesday to push for a deal to resolve the diplomatic row triggered by the Feb 15 killing of two Indian fishermen by Italian marines off the Kerala coast.

    The Italian minister kicks off his visit with a meeting Tuesday morning with Commerce and Industry Minister Anand Sharma, which will be followed by an interaction with top industry leaders of India. He is expected to pitch for scaling up business ties between the two countries.

    Terzi’s visit to India was scheduled much before the Feb 15 incident in which two marines on board an Italian ship shot dead the Indian fishermen mistaking them for pirates. The Italian minister is to visit Kerala Wednesday.

    All eyes will be on the “compromise deal” he proposes to resolve the crisis which is threatening to shadow bilateral ties when he meets External Affairs Minister S.M. Krishna. The Italian foreign minister may offer a hefty compensation package to the families of the slain fishermen, said informed sources.

    Besides bilateral relations, the situation in Afghanistan, the Iranian nuclear crisis and the eurozone crisis are among global issues that are expected to figure in the discussions, the sources said.

    Terzi’s visit comes soon after Italy’s Deputy Foreign Minister Staffan de Mistura held talks with Indian officials and also met the Kerala chief minister to find a diplomatic solution to ease the crisis over the fishermen’s killing.

    But the positions of the two sides remain poles apart as India maintains that the arrested Marines suspected of killing the fishermen should be tried according to the Indian law while Italy insists that the incident took place in international waters and therefore can not be tried in India.

    India has made it clear that the Italian marines will be prosecuted according to the Indian law. “The union government will support all efforts of the Kerala government in this regard. The case will go on as per Indian law. Indian courts are independent,” Defence Minister A.K. Antony told reporters during his visit to Kerala Sunday.

    “The enquiry is on in the right direction. The government of Kerala is handling the case very effectively,” he said.

    The two sides sought partial accommodation when the Kerala court hearing the shooting case allowed joint ballistic examination of the weapons used in the killing which started Saturday and is expected to be complete before the Italian foreign minister comes here Tuesday.

    Italian marines, Latorre Massimillano and Salvatore Girone — the security officials on board the Enrica Lexie — have been arrested for shooting dead two Indian fishermen Feb 15 after mistaking them to be pirates.