India stands firm in row with Italy over fishermen deaths

NEW DELHI — A top Italian diplomat struggled on Wednesday to extract concessions from India in an escalating row over the possible murder trial of two Italian soldiers on charges of killing two Indian fishermen.

By (AFP)

Published: Wed 22 Feb 2012, 5:55 PM

Last updated: Fri 3 Apr 2015, 10:56 AM

Following talks with officials in New Delhi, junior foreign minister Staffan De Mistura voiced sadness over the deaths, but insisted that the incident occurred in international waters and therefore outside Indian jurisdiction.

His Indian counterpart Praneet Kaur was equally insistent that the case should be handled by local Indian courts.

“We still maintain that the killings took place in Indian waters and Indian law should prevail,” Kaur told reporters after the meeting.

The two soldiers were remanded in custody Monday by a court in the southern state of Kerala on charges of shooting dead the two fishermen who were mistaken for pirates trying to attack an oil tanker off the Kerala coast.

The soldiers, who were deployed on the Italian-flagged tanker as security guards, had been arrested and escorted off the vessel on Sunday evening.

The Italian foreign ministry has accused the Indian police of taking “coercive” and “unilateral” action against the two men.

“We do acknowledge and recognise that two Indian fishermen died. No one doubts it, and it is terribly sad,” De Mistura said after Wednesday’s talks, while stressing that “the incident took place in international waters.”

The same argument about jurisdiction was made to the high court in Kerala on Wednesday by lawyers acting for the Italian soldiers as they sought to have the case quashed.

“As the incident took place in international waters, the officers cannot be subjected to Indian law,” lawyer P. Ramanpila told AFP.

Italy’s defence ministry has said the Indian fishing boat behaved aggressively and was repeatedly warned before any shots were fired.

Ships are increasingly employing armed guards for protection off the coast of Somalia and across the Indian Ocean as vessels of all sizes have been seized by pirates who often secure huge ransoms for crews’ safe release.

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