SIT to search Italian vessel for weapons on Saturday

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The Special Investigation Team (SIT) of Kerala police is likely to carry out on Saturday a search of the Italian ship Enrica Lexie for the weapons, allegedly used by naval guards in the killing of two Indian fishermen, in the presence of ballistic experts from that country.

"We expect by tomorrow we will be able to search the ship in the presence of the two ballistic experts from Italy," Kochi Police Commissioner M.R. Ajith Kumar, who is heading the SIT, told reporters here.

The Italian government has requested the presence of their technical experts during the search, seizure and examination, he said.

Asked if the two arrested marines -- Latore Massimiliano and Salvatore Girone, will also be taken to the ship during the search, Kumar said such details could not be revealed.

Italian Consul General in India, Giampaolo Cutillo, who was also present, said in order to have some Italian representation at the time of examination and seizure of weapons, a team of two technical officers is expected to reach here by tomorrow morning.

A court in Kollam, which had permitted the police to seize the arms, yesterday accepted the Italians' plea seeking presence of their representatives during the search and ballistic examination.

"We will have two highly technical officials. They are presently in the Indian embassy in Rome applying for visa. There is no direct flight (to Kochi) from Rome. As soon as they get the visa, hopefully they will be here by tomorrow morning," he said.

The Italian government was happy the marines, presently under police custody, were being treated 'very well,' he said.

Italy will cooperate with the investigation, he said. Meanwhile, the ship which had been berthed at the out of port area is being brought to the oil terminal today for enabling the search operations.

Two Italian naval guards have been charged with murder of the fishermen killed in firing from the ship off the Kollam coast on February 15. The Italians have been maintaining that they opened fire assuming the fishermen onboard the boat to be pirates.

The Consul General, Giampaolo Cutillo said, he would act as coordinating officer. The two technical officers who will arrive here tomorrow are members of highly competent Carabinieri Italian Military Police who would catch the first available flight to reach here, he said.

"As soon as they land, we are ready to start," he said and expressed confidence, saying "I am sure we will come out of this. We have to respect the court".

"Our minister had clearly stated that we are more than happy and ready to give maximum cooperation. This case is an absolute priority as we are mainly interested in establishing the process," he said.

The Consul General said he had come to meet the Commissioner to discuss some points relating to the procedure during the search operation on Saturday.

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