Naples

Marines returned to India willingly, defence minister says

Pair returned to stand trial for homicide while on duty

Marines returned to India willingly, defence minister says

Naples, March 28 - Two Italian marines who were sent back to India to face homicide charges did so willingly, Italian Defence Minister Giampaolo Di Paola said Thursday. Massimiliano Latorre and Salvatore Girone were sent back to India to be tried for allegedly killing two Indian fishermen they mistook for pirates on Friday, in a U-turn after Rome had said they would not return after being allowed to come home to vote. Rome had previously respected a pledge to return the pair after a Christmas break. The decision to hand them back, after a diplomatic tussle in which the Italian ambassador was blocked from leaving India, split the government and Foreign Minister Giulio Terzi resigned earlier this week saying his view they should not be returned had not been listened to. Premier Mario Monti suggested Terzi had an ulterior motive in quitting, possibly eyeing a political career with ex-premier Silvio Berlusconi's centre-right People of Freedom party, which has been strident in its patriotic stance that the marines should be kept in Italy. Di Paola criticised Terzi for quitting and said he would not abandon "the ship or the marines". On Thursday he denied reports that the marines had been unwilling to return to India for trial. ''It's not true that Salvatore and Massimiliano took five hours to agree with this decision. They were not just obeying orders, but also their sense of duty and responsibility. They honored their word'', Di Paola said in a speech during celebrations for the 90th anniversary of the Italian Air Force. ''They respected their uniform in spite of their pain, pushing back their own emotions and those of their families'', the minister added. The Monti government returned Latorre and Girone after getting assurances they would not face the death penalty for allegedly shooting southern Indian fishermen Jelestine Valentine and Ajesh Binki while guarding the oil tanker Enrica Lexie. They are set to be tried by a special court empowered to hand out sentences no longer than seven years, and may return to Italy to serve their time if convicted. Some media outlets have linked the marines' case to corruption allegations surrounding a $748 million deal for the purchase of 12 Italian helicopters, a contract that the Indian government is now threatening to scrap. photo: Di Paola (left) and Terzi

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