Fishermen's killing: India, Italy fail to resolve differences

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Fishermen's deaths:

The foreign ministers of India and Italy Tuesday sought to 'clear the air' over the killing of two Indian fishermen by two Italian marines but failed to resolve their differences, with Rome reiterating that the incident should be tried according to international law.

The foreign ministers' meeting took place in Delhi even as the Kerala High Court asked the owner of Italian cargo vessel Enrica Lexie and the families of the two slain fishermen whether they were willing for an out-of-court settlement for determining the compensation.

The February 15 killing figured prominently in talks between External Affairs Minister S.M. Krishna and his Italian counterpart Giulio Maria Terzi di Sant' Agata.

'Strong public opinion

After the talks, Krishna said at a joint press briefing that 'strong public opinion' existed in both countries over the issue and stressed that both sides have agreed to clear the air.

"We met in the backdrop of an unfortunate incident involving the death of two Indian fishermen and the subsequent detention of two Italian navy personnel. There is strong public opinion on both sides," Krishna said.

"Minister Terzi and I agreed that we need to clear the air so that people in both countries are reassured of our will and commitment to strengthen our partnership," he said.

"We are of the view that our relations are mature and based on strong foundations. This gives us the ability to address challenges together," he said while stressing enormous scope for expanding the bilateral relationship.

Tragic loss of lives

The Italian foreign minister, who came here close on the heels of the visit of his deputy, regretted the deaths but admitted that differences of opinion persisted with India on the issue.

"I have expressed the condolences of Italy and the Italian people over the unfortunate, tragic loss of lives," said Terzi.

He appreciated India's readiness to allow Italian observers in the judicial process which has been initiated in Kerala to investigate the chain of events leading to the killing of the two Indian fishermen. There was, however, no breakthrough in the talks.

"I have explained frankly the position of our government on the legal aspect. International law should try the Italian men. There is difference of opinion on this and it has not been resolved," Terzi said.

"We hope to pursue the matter in a friendly spirit, understanding and cooperation," he added.

Official sources, however, made it clear that there was no change in India's position and insisted that the Marines will be prosecuted according to the Indian law.

'Mistaken for pirates'

Terzi said the incident was triggered by the widespread threat of piracy and exhorted greater cooperation with India in combating piracy.

Two Indian fishermen, Ajesh Binki and Gelastine, were mistaken as pirates and shot dead by the security crew of the Enrica Lexie on February 15. Two Italian Marines have been arrested for the shooting.

Latorre Massimillano and Salvatore Girone have been remanded by a court in Kollam, 150 kms from Kerala capital Thiruvananthapuram, to 14 days police custody.

Last week, the two sides sought partial accommodation when the Kerala court hearing the shooting case allowed joint ballistic examination of the weapons used in the killing.

Last week Italy filed a petition in the Kerala High Court seeking dismissal of the murder case against Latorre and Girone.

Meanwhile, a division bench of the Kerala High Court comprising justices Thothatil B. Radhakrishanan and C.T. Ravikumar served notice on a petition filed by the fishermen's families complaining of an inadequate bank guarantee directed by a single bench for the ship's release.

Compensation

Gelastine's wife Doramma has demanded compensation of Rs.1 crore (around $200,000). Binki's sisters have demanded Rs.2 crore (around $400,000).

Freddy, the owner of the fishing boat on which the two Indians were killed, has also sought Rs.75 lakh for the damage caused to his boat by the firing.

Earlier, the court had ordered the ship owner to submit a bank guarantee of Rs.25 lakhs each for the families of the two killed fishermen and Rs.10 lakh for the damage caused to the boat.

The bench also made it clear that the ship, now berthed in Kochi, will not leave till a decision is taken on the issue of compensation.

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