Italian soldiers sent to jail by Indian court

Italian soldiers sent to jail by Indian court

Italian soldiers sent to jail by Indian court

Salvatore Girone (centre L) and Latorre Massimiliano (3rd R), members of the navy security team of Napoli registered Italian merchant vessel Enrica Lexie, sit in a police vehicle after they appeared before a court at Kollam in the southern Indian state of Kerala March 5, 2012. REUTERS photo

An Indian court on Monday ordered two Italian soldiers to be moved to jail from a guest house as officials investigate last month's killing of two Indian fishermen at sea.

The trial court in the southern state of Kerala denied a plea for jail privileges which are granted in Italy to the military, saying Indian law granted no such favours.

The soldiers face charges of shooting dead the two fishermen who were mistaken for pirates trying to attack an oil tanker that the Italians were protecting.

The judicial decision was immediately termed "unacceptable" by Italian officials.

A foreign ministry top official in Rome, Giampiero Massolo, summoned Indian charge d'affaires Saurabh Kumar to express "the government's very strong concern" over the jailing of the two servicemen, according to a ministry statement.

The incident has put India's diplomatic ties with Italy to the test with Rome arguing that the shootings occurred in international waters and New Delhi insisting that the case should be dealt with according to Indian law.

Italy has also filed a separate petition in the Kerala state high court seeking instant dismissal of the murder case against the two soldiers, Massimiliano Latorre and Salvatore Girone.

On Monday, Chief Judicial Magistrate A.K. Gopakumar said that the two Italians should be sent to the Central Prison in Thiruvananthapuram, Kerala's capital city.

"The Italians have been housed apart from other inmates in the jail and are allowed to meet Italian visitors for an hour every day," senior police officer Ajit Kumar told AFP.

They are expected to appear back before the courts in two weeks.

Another police officer, Alexander Jacob, said the Italians had demanded an air-conditioned room and round-the-clock security.

"Their requests were rejected by the court but they have been provided with a special room. That is the maximum luxury one can get in an Indian prison," Jacob said.

Italy's Foreign Minister Guilio Terzi travelled to New Delhi last week to press his country's position that the men should be tried in an Italian court.
New Delhi says the case should be tried in India because the killings happened on an Indian boat. Piracy has emerged as a major threat to merchant ships in the Indian Ocean and Arabian Sea, with Somalia-based pirates hijacking ships and crew for ransom.
Several countries, including India, allow ship owners to deploy armed security guards on ships.

Italy has apologised for the shooting, but said the fishing boat had been judged to be "clearly hostile, and typical of the type of vessel used by pirates". In addition, the vessel "did not respond to warning signals," Rome said.