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Two Italian guards taken into custody by Kerala police

February 19, 2012 18:56 IST

After four days of hectic negotiations, two Naval guards of an Italian merchant vessel were taken into custody in Kochi on Sunday and charged with murder in the killing of two Indian fishermen during a firing on their boat off the Kerala coast.

Simultaneously at the diplomatic level, India hoped that Italy will cooperate with this country in ensuring that law of the land takes its course after their team of officials from the legal and foreign ministries held a meeting with senior officials of the external affairs ministry in New Delhi.

Latore Massimiliano and Salvatore Girone, who are part of the six-member security detail of the ship Enrica Lexie from Italian Navy, were brought to the Kochi shore on Sunday evening, nearly eight hours past the deadline set by police on Saturday night.

A case of murder was registered by Kollam police in connection with the incident and the ship authorities last night agreed to hand over by 8 AM today the two marines after police made clear that the crew should be handed over to them.

However, the surrender of the two was delayed and they were brought to the shore only around 4 pm.

They were taken to a CISF guest house at nearby Wellignton island for detailed interrogation, police sources said in Kochi.

The two were brought to the shore from the vessel by senior police officers led by Ernakulam Range IGP K Padma Kumar, Kochi Police commissioner, M R Ajith Kumar, Kollam SP Sam Christy Daniel and Assistant Commissioner (Special Branch)

M N Ramesh.Italian Consul General in Mumbai Gian Paolo Cutillo and Defence Attache Franco Favre also accompanied them.

Padmakumar said police examined documents in the ship and recorded the statements of the 20-odd crew and the captain.

The two fishermen -- Ajesh Binki, 25, and Jalastein, 45, -- were killed on February 15 off Kollam coast when armed guards of the ship fired at their boat, suspecting it to be a vessel belonging to pirates in an incident that threatened to escalate into a major diplomatic row between India and Italy.

In New Delhi, MEA spokesperson Syed Akbaruddin said both the sides had a "fairly comprehensive" discussion.

"We have also explained to them that as good partners and as External Affairs Minister S M Krishna had requested on Saturday, we hope Italy will cooperate with us in ensuring law of the land takes its course. We also requested them to fully cooperate with Kerala Police," he told reporters.

"We had a fairly comprehensive discussion whereby we have explained to them the rationale of our position and the situation as it exists today," Akbaruddin said.

While both sides asserted that their country enjoys extra terrestial jurisdiction inĀ  over any crime or incident in such situations, India was quick to point out that no military personnel can fire on unarmed fishermen, a point which was accepted by the Italian side too.

During the discussions, official sources said the Italian side appreciated India's response to the incident but they acknowledged there were no legal treaties of bilateral nature between India and Italy under which they could discuss such issues.

The ministry officials also told the delegation that law and order was a state subject and they could approach Kerala government and discuss the issue.

"Let the law of the land take its own course. We would appreciate and request Italian officials to cooperate with Indian agencies," a senior MEA official said.

In reply to Italian side's remarks that they would take the investigations further, the Indian side offered assistance them in this in terms of logistics and others.

"The bottomline is whatever their court decides is fine, let them carry on with their investigation, and we will carry out our legal process...it took some time to explain this to them but then we made our stand clear," the official said.

The official said it was up to the Kerala to do what they want to proceed with the investigation and there were no hurdles or impediment for the state government for its probe.

During the discussions, the two sides discussed whether any international conventions apply and checked whether any UN laws on the seas apply but found nothing.

Official sources said the Italian team will also go to Kochi for legal consultations in connection with the case.

IGP Padmakumar said in Kochi at no point of time did the ship crew create any obstacles and that they extended their cooperation.

In Bangalore, External Affairs Minister S M Krishna said the law of the country would take its own course.

PTI
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