Rome

India marines 'will be back by Christmas'

Bonino 'confident' after talks with Khurshid

India marines 'will be back by Christmas'

(By Denis Greenan). Rome, July 18 - Two marines facing murder charges in India will most likely return home by Christmas, Foreign Affairs Minister Emma Bonino said on Thursday. "We are working on it and I am confident" Bonino said. India is working as quickly as possible to resolve the case of two Italian marines charged with murder, Bonino's counterpart Salman Khurshid told ANSA Thursday. "We are trying to solve obstacles in the context of our laws," and how they relate to Italian laws, Khurshid said on the sidelines of an art exhibition. He added that he hoped for "a better understanding" between the two countries: "I hope all these our efforts will lead to a quick decision". However, Khurshid refused to set a time frame for finalizing investigation and trial of the marines. The foreign ministers met in Budapest on Tuesday. Both were in Hungary on other diplomatic business but found time to meet. India has said that it hopes to conclude an inquiry by the end of August into the shooting and killing of two local fishermen by two Italian marines, who allegedly mistook them for pirates. Massimiliano Latorre and Salvatore Girone are accused by Indian authorities of the double homicides of fishermen Valentine (aka Gelastine) and Ajesh Binki in February 2012. Khurshid recently assured Italy that the marines would not face the death penalty. "They are not facing that possibility," he said. He added that Indian law recognizes a mitigating factor that offers hope that the pair may not be held criminally accountable. Kurshid spoke of "a crucial mitigating factor, that of good faith". "If someone acts in good faith, there is no criminal culpability," he said. There have been conflicting reports on the penalties faced by the men, Massimiliano Latorre and Salvatore Girone, since they were returned to India after coming back home to vote amid an escalating diplomatic row over Italy's initial refusal to hand them back after the February 22 general election. On April 22 India's supreme court handed the issue of their coming trial to the government. New Delhi decided to continue letting India's anti-terrorism police lead a fresh probe. Latorre and Girone are being investigated by the anti-terrorism National Investigation Agency (NIA), and not the criminal Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI). This was initially taken as suggesting the marines might face a possible death sentence if convicted. On April 16 Italy presented an affidavit challenging a lower-court decision to assign the case to the NIA, which placed the investigation under a severe 2002 law designed to fight terrorism in international waters. The 2002 anti-terrorism law calls for capital punishment in the case of conviction for homicide. After a drawn-out diplomatic row, Italy agreed to hand the men back to Indian authorities in March despite contesting India's right to jurisdiction, given the incident took place in international waters. India briefly stopped the Italian ambassador leaving the country as the row escalated before Italy embarrassingly climbed down on a refusal to honour a pledge to send the men back after a trip home to vote in the general election. They had previously returned, and Italy won praise for keeping its promise, after a Christmas break. Bonino, who replaced Giulio Terzi who resigned in a government flap over the case, said she was certain an agreement would be found because of India's great legal tradition and respect for human rights. "India is a great country, and one of rights. Our countries need to listen to each other," she said.

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