Italians could face ten years over Indian deaths

India on Saturday said it will go ahead with prosecuting two Italian marines accused of killing two fishermen under a maritime security law that calls for a maximum 10-year punishment.

Plans earlier by India to invoke a section of the maritime security act that provides for mandatory execution for causing death had aroused fury from Rome.

"They will be tried under Section 3(1) A of the act which does not carry any death penalty," a home ministry spokesman told AFP.

The new section to which the ministry spokesman referred carries a maximum 10-year term and a fine for acts of violence against any person on a ship.

On Friday, the home ministry had said it would not try the men under the maritime security act but revised its stand Saturday, saying the men would face lesser charges under a different section of the act.

The marines were accused of murder over the shooting deaths of two fishermen off the coast of Kerala while serving as security guards on an Italian-flagged cargo ship in February 2012.

Massimiliano Latorre and Salvatore Girone say they mistook the fishing boat for a pirate vessel and only fired warning shots.

India has dragged its feet in starting a trial, with legal experts attributing the delay to uncertainty over which law to use to prosecute the men.

The delay prompted the Italian marines last month to ask India's Supreme Court to drop murder charges against them and allow them to return home.

To speed up the process, the top court last Monday gave the Indian government a week to make a final decision on the marines' prosecution.

Italy insists the pair should be tried on home soil as the shootings involved an Italian-flagged vessel in what Rome insists were international waters.

India asserts the killings took place in waters under its jurisdiction.

The marines have been given bail and are staying at the Italian embassy in New Delhi.

They were allowed to go home to vote in elections and returned to India for trial in March last year.

Rome initially refused to send them back to India, triggering a diplomatic stand-off.

Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh promised Italy at the time of the sailors' return they would not face the death penalty.

The return of the marines to India caused huge controversy in Rome and prompted Italy's foreign minister to resign in protest.

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Italian marine gets six more months at home

India's top court on Monday granted an Italian marine detained over the 2012 killing of two fishermen off the coast of Kerala another six months at home to recover from a medical condition.

Italian marine gets six more months at home
Italian marine Massimiliano Lattore has been granted six more months at home. Photo: Vincenzo Pinto/AFP

Massimiliano Lattore and his fellow marine Salvatore Girone shot the fishermen while serving as part of an anti-piracy mission off southern India in 2012.

The incident led to a diplomatic row between Italy and India with both marines barred from leaving India pending trial.

Lattore was finally allowed to travel back to his country last year for what Italian media reports described as a minor procedure to correct a congenital heart disease.

In April this year, he had sought and received a three-month stay from returning to India.

The Supreme Court on Monday granted him six more months in Italy for recovery while accepting his fresh application for an extension of the stay on his return order.

The other marine, Girone, is living at Italy's embassy in New Delhi.

The trial against both marines remains pending at a special court in New Delhi over confusion which agency would investigate their case. It had not opened the case when the pair was in India.

The Italian government in June announced that it had launched international arbitration proceedings in the case.

The unilateral move by the Italian government was a result of failure of direct negotiations with its Indian counterpart.

On Monday, the Italian government requested the top court in New Delhi to not hear the criminal trial of the marines as it wanted arbitration on the matter.

The Indian government told the court that it had received an arbitration notice from the Italian government and would respond to it shortly.

Ever since the incident India has insisted that the fate of the two marines must be resolved in its courts because its citizens were shot in its territorial waters.

Italy's government has argued that the shooting occurred in international waters off southern India and should be dealt under the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS).