(AFP) – Jun 2, 2012
THIRUVANANTHAPURAM, India — Two Italian marines accused of murdering two Indian fishermen were in court Saturday for a preliminary hearing in a case that has caused a diplomatic row, as Rome called for their return.
The two marines, who are out on bail, deny murder, saying they mistook the fishermen for pirates as they guarded an Italian oil tanker.
Massimiliano Latorre and Salvatore Girone, who shot dead the fishermen off India's southwestern coast on February 15, appeared in the lower court in Kollam, in the southern state of Kerala.
The court fixed June 18 for the next hearing and directed the state government to provide a list of interpreters "for the benefit of the accused", the semi-official Press Trust of India news agency reported.
Italian Prime Minister Mario Monti expressed "great satisfaction" that the marines had been granted bail at an earlier hearing.
"But the final outcome, for which we have worked with determination since the start in our relations with Indian authorities of every level, is the return of our marines to Italy," he said in a statement.
The marines have said the fishermen's boat behaved suspiciously and ignored warning shots while approaching the Italian oil tanker.
They were freed on bail by Kochi High Court last week on condition they each deposit personal bonds of 10 million rupees (140,000 euros, $178,000) and comply with other conditions, including surrender of their passports.
Italy has called the case against the marines illegal and challenged it before India's Supreme Court. It has also paid compensation of 144,000 euros ($190,000) to the fishermen's families.
The Kerala government has ruled out any out-of-court settlement.
Rome says the marines should be prosecuted in their home country because the shootings occurred on an Italian-flagged vessel in international waters, but India says they took place in waters under its jurisdiction.
Armed guards are increasingly deployed on cargo ships and tankers in the Indian Ocean to tackle threats from Somali pirates, who often hold ships and crews hostage for months demanding multi-million-dollar ransoms.
After the marines were charged with murder in May, Italy recalled its ambassador to Rome for consultations on the matter.
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