The Indian supreme court has ordered the Italian ambassador to New Delhi not to leave the country amid a deepening dispute over the fate of two Italian marines accused of shooting dead two fishermen off the southeastern coast of India last year.
Rome has angered Delhi by reneging on a promise made by its ambassador, Daniele Mancini, to return the marines to face possible trial in India. The marines were allowed to fly home to Italy to vote in the recent general election.
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G.E. Vahanvati, India’s attorney-general, said Delhi was “extremely concerned” by the Italian move not to send the marines back to India, describing the situation as a “breach of undertaking given to the highest court of the land”.
The Supreme Court on Thursday issued a notice to Mr Mancini not to leave India, and demanded an explanation from him and from the two marines in court next Monday, according to lawyers and petitioners. The Italian embassy declined to make any immediate comment.
Salman Khurshid, India’s foreign minister, met Manmohan Singh, prime minister of the Congress-led coalition government, to discuss what to do next.
Opposition politicians have accused the government of colluding with Italy to allow the marines to abscond and have suggested that Congress – whose leader, Sonia Gandhi, is Italian by birth – is beholden to foreigners.
Mr Singh has already threatened Rome with unspecified consequences. On Wednesday, he told parliament: “They have violated every rule of diplomatic discourse and call into question solemn commitments given by an accredited representative of a government.”
The dispute arises from an incident in February last year in which the marines, who were on anti-piracy duty aboard an Italian-flagged tanker, shot the fishermen.
Italy says the two men should be tried in their own country since the ship was in international waters and the marines were on military duty for their government.
Amid speculation that he might be expelled, Mr Mancini had earlier said he wanted to stay in India.
“I will not leave this country till a competent authority makes me persona non grata,” he said. “I am more than glad to live in this country for years to come.”
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