Indian govt has ruled out marines death penalty says Bonino

(ANSA) - Rome, November 29 - The Indian government has made it clear Italian marines Massimiliano Latorre and Salvatore Girone will not face the death penalty over the deaths of two Indian fishermen, Foreign Minister Emma Bonino stressed Friday.

"There was a formal statement (Thursday) by Foreign Ministry Spokesman Syed Akbaruddin who answered an ANSA question and recalled that Foreign Minister Salman Kurshid ruled out the death penalty," Bonino said in an interview of Radio Radicale, her Radical Party's political-affairs radio station.

The Hindustan Times said Thursday investigators from India's National Investigation Agency (NIA) have asked to judge Latorre and Girone on the basis of the 'Sua Act', which punishes piracy by death.

The two are charged with opening fire on a fishing trawler and killing Ajesh Binki and Valentine aka Gelastine on February 15, 2012.

The shooting occurred while the marines were aboard a private vessel on an anti-piracy mission in international waters off the coast of Kerala in southern India, sparking a diplomatic row between the governments of India and Italy over conflicting opinions on jurisdiction and immunity.

"The death penalty is not even conceivable as a risk," Italy's special envoy on the case, Staffan de Mistura, said late Thursday.

"The Indian government itself has pledged that that will not happen.

"But above all, this case does not fall among those very rare ones in which the death penalty is a statutory punishment," said de Mistura, a long-serving top diplomat who has been shuttling between Italy and India to try to resolve the 21-month-long case of Latorre and Girone, which has grabbed headlines around the world.

"This is just media speculation," de Mistura added.

"Such speculations in the past have been refuted by the facts".

Mistura told ANSA Italy is ready "for any eventuality, with actions and counteractions".

"The case does not meet the criteria for crimes punishable by death," government spokesperson Syed Akbaruddin told ANSA at a press conference in New Delhi Thursday.

Foreign Minister Khurshid had previously assured Italy the marines would not face the death penalty as part of a deal to extradite the two from Italy in March.

Bonino recently repeated the government's determination to bring home the two marines.

The government's objective, she said, is to "bring them home".

"With radical obstinacy and sound realism," she added, "we can do it".

She said Latorre and Girone would most likely return home by Christmas, but Defence Minister Mario Mauro said that forecast might be optimistic.

"I think early 2014 is more likely," he said.

Kurshid has said India is working "as quickly as possible" to resolve the case.

"We are trying to solve obstacles in the context of our laws," and how they relate to Italian laws, he said.

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 the investigation and trial of the marines.

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 since they were returned to India after coming back home to vote in the February 22 general election and a diplomatic row over Italy's initial refusal to hand them back.

After a drawn-out wrangle which led to a flap in the government then led by technocrat Mario Monti, Italy agreed to hand the men back to Indian authorities in March despite still contesting India's right to jurisdiction.

India had briefly stopped the Italian ambassador from leaving the country as the row escalated before Italy embarrassingly climbed down on its refusal to honour a pledge to send the men back after their trip home to vote.

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, has said she is certain an agreement will 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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