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India charges Italian marines with murder of Kerala fishermen

Indian police have charged two Italian marines with the murder of two Indian fishermen who were shot dead off the coast of Kerala in February.

20120217 kerala italian trawler 0Enlarge
The crew aboard the MV Enrica Lexie (pictured) reportedly mistook the Indian trawler for a pirate vessel, and fired on the fishermen believing they were about to be attacked. (STRDEL/AFP/Getty Images)

Indian police have charged two Italian marines with the murder of two Indian fishermen who were shot dead off the coast of Kerala in February.

Massimiliano Latorre and Salvatore Girone had been employed to provide security on an oil tanker, the Enrica Lexie, which was travelling to Egypt from Singapore with a 34-strong crew aboard.

Italy says the marines mistook a nearby fishing trawler for a pirate vessel and fired warning shots in self-defence, killing Selestian Valentine and Ajesh Pinky. India says the two fishermen were unarmed.

According to the BBC, Italy agreed in April to pay 10m rupees ($189,000) in compensation to each of the families of the two Indian fishermen, who agreed to withdraw civil court cases against the marines in return.

But talks between the Italian and Indian governments have failed to calm a diplomatic row continuing between the two countries.

More from GlobalPost: India and Italy seek to 'clear air' over fishermen's deaths

Friday’s charges came as Italy's foreign ministry said it was recalling its ambassador to India for "consultations on the matter of the marines,” the Agence France Presse reports.

New Delhi argues that the marines should be tried in India because the killings occurred on an Indian boat. Both men could be executed or be handed a life imprisonment sentence if found guilty.

Rome, on the other hand, insists that the case should be handled in Italy and that the marines have immunity as the tanker was in international waters and flying an Italian flag when the shooting occurred.

A spokesman for India's foreign ministry told Reuters that the fact that Italy had recalled its ambassador did not indicate relations had soured:

"Calling back for consultation is not unusual and they have not told us it is anything unusual. Our understanding is that it is for consultation, not for recall," he said.

The marines will appear in court on May 25, when a charge sheet will be presented to them. The trial could begin shortly afterwards. 

More from GlobalPost: India questions Italian ship crew after 2 fishermen shot dead

http://www.globalpost.com/dispatch/news/regions/asia-pacific/india/120518/india-charges-italian-marines-murder-kerala-fishermen