NEW DELHI, India — Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh on Wednesday warned Italy there would be unspecified “consequences” unless two Italian marines charged with the murder of two Indian fishermen returned to India to face trial.
Agence France-Presse said the “normally mild-mannered” Singh made the unusually strong remarks to lawmakers in response to growing public and political anger at Italy’s announcement Monday that the marines would stay in Italy.
Massimiliano Latorre and Salvatore Girone were working as guards on the tanker Enrica Lexie when they allegedly shot dead the fishermen who they said they mistook for pirates off the southern state of Kerala in February 2012.
They are now in Italy after the Indian Supreme Court gave them special permission to return home to vote in last month’s elections.
"This cannot by any standards be in the interests of any bilateral relationship that has to function on the basis of trust," Singh was quoted as saying.
"Our government has therefore insisted that the Italian authorities respect the undertakings they have given to the honorable supreme court and return the two accused persons to stand trial in India.
"If they do not keep their word, there will be consequences for our relations with Italy."
GlobalPost Senior Correspondent in New Delhi, Jason Overdorf, said Rome was no doubt aware of the potential consequences of refusing to return the accused sailors.
"But the Italians may be misreading New Delhi's past willingness to tolerate this kind of slight," Overdorf said.
India reacted relatively mildly when Denmark refused to return a suspect in an illegal arms trafficking case and when the US protected former Union Carbide chief executive Warren Anderson after he was spirited out of India following the deadly Bhopal gas leak.
"But elections are looming in 2014, and the Congress Party can ill afford to seem soft on Italy. Nationalists continually blast Congress Party President Sonia Gandhi for her Italian birth, even though she declined the prime minister's chair in 2004 to avoid a conflict," Overdorf said.
According to the BBC, Rome argues the two men should be tried in Italy because the incident happened in international waters. Delhi says the ship was in Indian territorial waters.
Before Monday’s announcement, relations between the two countries were already frayed followed corruption allegations surrounding a $750 million helicopter deal between India’s military and an Italian defense company, the Associated Press said.
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