Marines return to India amid controversy

Surprise climbdown after two weeks of diplomatic tug-of-war

Marines return to India amid controversy

(By Kate Carlisle) Rome, March 22 - Two anti-piracy marines accused of killing two fishermen returned to India Friday after a diplomatic tug-of-war escalated between the two countries. In a surprise climbdown after a two-week face-off in which the Italian ambassador was blocked in India, Rome sanctioned their return Thursday night after receiving assurances the death penalty was off the table. Indian Foreign Minister Salman Khurshid said Friday that the Italian government's turnaround decision to hand back the two marines was a "satisfying conclusion" to the diplomatic spat between the two countries. "I clarified that the Italian Republic is obliged to respect the solemn commitment taken with the (Indian) Supreme Court," he said. On Thursday Khurshid said the pair had until Friday to return to the Asian nation, otherwise the affair would escalate further. The pair, Massimiliano Latorre and Salvatore Girone, left a military airport in the southern city of Brindisi at about 1 am local time Friday. Italy had promised the men would go back after last month's election leave as they did after a Christmas break but did not honour the pledge, angering India who stopped Ambassador Daniele Mancini from leaving the country. Indian Premier Manmohan Singh had said Italy's refusal to honour the pledge to turn over Latorre and Girone "cast a shadow" over the two countries' relations. On Thursday evening Italy's government said it had asked and obtained from the Indian authorities written guarantees of the treatment and the recognition of the marines' fundamental rights as recognized by international law. Minister Khurshid said on Friday that his government intended to press ahead with the creation of a special tribunal to examine the case of the two marines' trial by the Supreme Court in New Delhi. Italian Foreign Minister Giulio Terzi on Friday rejected calls to resign over the country's handling of the case. Terzi said the ensuing diplomatic row had been "necessary" to ensure the men would not face the death penalty if convicted in India. However critics said the about face had exposed Italy to "ridicule" and called for the country's chief diplomat to resign. The two marines had been held in India since February 2012 after a shooting incident in international waters in which two Indian fishermen, Jelestine Valentine and Ajesh Binki, were killed. Italy has always denied that India has jurisdiction over the case, as it took place in international waters.

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