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Italy says will send marines back to India for trial


Italy said two marines on trial for murder in India would return to the country by Friday, a stunning turnaround after Rome earlier unleashed a diplomatic furore by saying they would not go back.

Massimiliano Latorre and Salvatore Girone, granted special leave last month by an Indian court to return to Italy to vote in elections, had skipped bail.

The government said on Thursday it had received "ample assurances" from Indian authorities "on the treatment that the marines will receive and the defence of their fundamental rights.

"The government decided, also in the interests of the marines, to maintain the commitment taken when they were granted leave to take part in the elections to return to India by March 22," it said.

"The marines agreed to this decision," it added.

Outgoing Prime Minister Mario Monti met with Defence Minister Giampaolo Di Paola and Steffan de Mistura, a junior foreign minister who has taken a lead on the case, to discuss the issue on Thursday.

De Mistura said the decision was a "difficult" one.

Italian President Giorgio Napolitano said he appreciated the "sense of responsibility" displayed by the two marines.

The government had announced on March 11 that the marines would not return from their leave.

Italy insists the marines should be prosecuted in their home country because the shootings involved an Italian-flagged vessel in international waters. India says the killings took place in waters under its jurisdiction.

The two are accused of having shot dead two Indian fishermen they mistook for pirates off the Indian port of Kochi last year. They were serving as security guards on an Italian oil tanker.

After Italy said the marines would not return, Indian authorities forbade Italy's ambassador to New Delhi, Daniele Mancini, from leaving the country, saying he had broken a written promise.

Sonia Gandhi, the Italian-born head of India's ruling party, had accused Rome of an unacceptable "betrayal", and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh had warned Italy that there would be "consequences".

Italy had accused India of violating international laws on diplomatic immunity as the Indian Supreme Court issued a decision requiring Mancini to seek the court's permission to leave the country.

New Delhi also put its airports on alert to prevent Mancini from leaving.

Without legal protection he could be prosecuted for contempt of court.

A lawyer for the Italian government argued that Mancini still enjoyed diplomatic immunity and freedom of movement under international rules contained in the 1961 Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations.

European Union foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton on Tuesday defended Mancini, saying diplomatic immunity "should be respected at all times". Limiting his movement "would be contrary" to international obligations, she said.

Italy said it was trying to find a way out of the dispute that would satisfy both sides.

"The Italian government is working on a friendly agreement with India based on international law," Italian President Giorgio Napolitano's office said in a statement.

Relations between the two countries have also been soured by corruption allegations surrounding a $748 million deal for the purchase of 12 Italian helicopters, which the Indian government is now threatening to scrap.

The case of the marines caused more uproar in the local assembly of southwestern Kerala, the home state of the dead fishermen.

The opposition Communist party walked out of the assembly after their demand for an urgent discussion on how the Italian marines had been allowed to return home was dismissed by the ruling party.

"It's a shame on India that this case was dealt with casually," senior Communist leader P.K. Gurudasan told AFP.