India assured marines: no arrest, no death penalty
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India and Italy managed to resolve a serious diplomatic stand-off through a series of hectic diplomatic exchanges after the Supreme Court on March 14 took serious note of Rome's refusal to send back the two marines who killed two fishermen off the Kerala coast last year.
The last-minute breakthrough that resulted in the marines returning to the capital Friday came after India assured Italy that the two soldiers would not be arrested on their return or face the death penalty when they are tried by a special court.
Sources said that after the apex court took a strong stand on March 14, Italy asked India for a series of clarifications, the main ones being whether the death penalty would apply to this case, and the status of the marines once they returned to Delhi.
Italy's deputy foreign minister Staffan de Mistura, who accompanied the two men, agreed that a diplomatic crisis had been averted and said the turning point was India's assurance that the death penalty would not apply to the case.
"Death penalty is unacceptable to us, even for foreigners convicted of crime in Italy. The government of India wrote to Rome assuring that the marines will not be sentenced to death. The guarantee was enough for the Italian government," de Mistura told reporters.
Sources said that after Rome sought clarifications, there were hectic consultations in Delhi, with the law ministry also being involved. After the law ministry gave its opinion that the death penalty would not be applicable in the case, an assurance about the same was given to Italy.
Earlier, External Affairs Minister Salman Khurshid told both Parliament that an assurance was given that if the marines returned by the four-week deadline set by the Supreme Court, which ended Friday, they would not be arrested.
Italy, the minster added, was also told that the death penalty will not apply in this case, as per the Indian law. "According to well-settled Indian jurisprudence, this case would not fall in the category of matters which attract the death penalty, that is to say the rarest of rare cases. Therefore, there need not be any apprehension in this regard," Khurshid said.
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