New Delhi

Marines to get 'special' court, India assures

Monti talks to FM, anti-terrorist cops to probe

Marines to get 'special' court, India assures

(By Denis Greenan). New Delhi, April 5 - Two Italian marines accused of killing two Indian fishermen will be tried by a special court that cannot hand down the death sentence, New Delhi assured Rome Friday after a day of conflicting reports. Outgoing Italian Premier and interim Foreign Minister Mario Monti telephoned Indian Foreign Minister Salman Khurshid to "get an update" on the formation of the special court, as decided by India's Supreme Court on January 18, diplomatic sources in the Indian capital told ANSA. A special court can only hand down sentences of no longer than seven years, according to recent reports. Earlier on Friday it was reported that the case of anti-piracy marines Massimiliano Latorre and Salvatore Girone, accused in the February 2012 deaths of Ajesh Binki and Gelastine (Valentine), would be handled by a normal court which could give out life sentences, in violation of a deal Italy made in returning the marines last month. Also Friday, Deputy Italian Foreign Minister Staffan de Mistura on Friday met Khurshid personally for assurances on the marines after a new probe was opened by anti-terrorist police, the Italian embassy in New Delhi told ANSA. After the meeting, de Mistura warned journalists covering an affair that has dented Italy's image abroad that "you should only listen to official reports, not everything that appears in the (Indian) media". Earlier Friday, in confirmation of other news that had been at least once denied, Indian officials told ANSA that a new probe into the February 2012 incident off the southern coast of the Kerala region is in the hands of India's anti-terrorist National Investigation Agency (NIA). An anti-terrorist inspector is on the case, they said. "Inspector general P.V. Rama Sastry is in charge now," a NIA spokesman told ANSA. Foreign Ministry spokesman Syed Akbaruddin told ANSA that the NIA would restart the probe from the initial charges, which did not rule out the death penalty. But this was later denied by what Khurshid said to Monti and de Mistura. There have been conflicting reports this week about the new probe and the powers of the court. On Wednesday New Delhi said there was "nothing official" in reports about a special court which could only hand down limited sentences or the investigating body. Italy returned the marines to India after reportedly receiving assurances they would not face the death penalty, after a diplomatic tussle in which the Italian ambassador was prevented from leaving India and the Italian foreign minister eventually resigned. On Monday, reports said the case had been reassigned from local authorities to the NIA, which was set up after the 2008 terrorist attacks in Mumbai to combat national-security threats. Italian officials are closely watching developments in the case, in which Latorre and Girone, are accused of killing Gelastine and Binki after allegedly mistaking them for pirates while guarding the Enrica Lexie oil tanker. Despite last week's controversial resignation of Foreign Minister Giulio Terzi, accused by outgoing Premier Mario Monti of having an eye to a political career on the centre right, diplomatic tempers seemed to have cooled after Italy climbed down after earlier reneging on a pledge to send the men back following a four-week parole to vote in the February 24-25 general election. The pair had previously returned from a Christmas break, honouring Italy's pledge, solemnly filed by Ambassador Daniele Mancini. During the tug-of-war following the refusal to send the pair back the second time, Indian airports were alerted not to let Mancini out of the country. On Wednesday a spokesman from the Indian foreign ministry called the case "one of a kind" and "obviously very delicate". "We know quite well that the (Indian) Supreme Court expects us to quickly put together a special tribunal. We are working on it, and we will be ready for the next hearing scheduled April 16," said Syed Akbaruddin. He also added that the new Indian ambassador to Italy, Ranjit Gupta, is scheduled to be instated "by the end of the month". Gupta was supposed to assume the post in January, but the government opted to suspend the transition amid tensions over the case of the Italian marines.

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