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Italy-India row escalates after India downgrades diplomatic level


ROME, (Xinhua): The diplomatic spat between Italy and India has continued after India decided not to have ambassador level relations with Italy.

The problems stemmed from a 13-month-old case, in which Italian marines Massimiliano Latorre and Salvatore Girone, who were stationed on the oil tanker MV Enrica Lexie, were charged with shooting and killing two unarmed Indian fishermen off the coast of the Indian state of Kerala.

The sailors were arrested in India but allowed to return to Italy last month in order to vote in national elections and spent time with their families. They were obligated to return after four weeks. But last week Italy said it would not return them to India for trial, saying they would be tried in Italy instead.

The decision has sparked a diplomatic dispute between the two countries that has now escalated with Italian Prime Minister Mario Monti saying Italy would not give in to international pressures and his Indian counterpart, Manmohan Singh, calling the situation "unacceptable."

India also downgraded its diplomatic relations with Italy by refusing to deploy India's ambassador Basant Kumar Gupta to Italy.

The move would normally mean that Italy would recall its ambassador to India Daniele Mancini. However, in an unusual move, the Indian Supreme Court, which voted to allow the marines to leave on a four-week furlough, ruled that Mancini could not leave India without permission.

Customs officials at border crossings, airports, and maritime ports have been instructed not to let Mancini leave the country as the ambassador had given his personal assurance the marines would be returned to India after their four-week return trip to Italy.

While India's decision not to deploy its ambassador to Rome was a significant diplomatic move, it could work to India's disadvantage in the long term, as reaching an agreement to settle the case of the Italian marines could prove more difficult with diplomatic channels closed.

On Monday, Italy said India's decision not to allow Mancini to leave India was a violation of the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations.

But Italy still hoped to resolve the problems with India on a diplomatic level, though officials have outright refused to consider returning Latorre and Girone to India.

For its part, India said Italy's decision to keep the sailors in Italy was itself a violation of international law, leading to its decision to revoke Mancini's diplomatic immunity.

Also on Monday, India's Kerala Chief Minister Oommen Chandy said that the Italian sailors would be returned to India to stand trial no matter what it took.

It is not the first time that the crisis has reached the ambassador level. In May 2012, Italy recalled its ambassador to India in protest against the arrest of Latorre and Girone.

Editor: Hou Qiang

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