SC tells govt to clarify stand on murderous Italian marines

The Supreme Court has asked the union government to make up its mind by Friday on the anti-piracy charges against two Italian marines alleged to have shot in cold blood two Indian fishermen off the Kerala coast just over two years ago.

The issue has caused a simmering diplomatic row between the two countries, with Italy insisting that the marines must be repatriated rather than tried in India.

A bench of the SC comprising Justices B S Chauhan and M Y Eqbal told the government to finalise its views in an affidavit after Attorney General G E Vahanvati told the court that the Indian government ''is doing its best to help the marines'' and that law minister Kapil Sibal, external affairs minister Salman Khurshid and home minister Sushilkumar Shinde had met last Thursday and entrusted the law minister with a final decision.

"The decision from the law minister is expected in two-three days," Vahanvati said. On this, the bench asked for the centre's affidavit on the issue by Friday.

The apex court further posted the petition on behalf of marines, Massimiliano Latorre and Salvatore Girone, filed by Italian ambassador Daniele Mancini, for hearing on Monday.

Vahanvati in his arguments said that the charges against the marines have been readied but not filed, and hoped that the government would be able to resolve whether Suppression of Unlawful Acts Against Safety of Maritime Navigation and Fixed Platforms on Continental Shelf Act (SUA) provisions be applied against the marines.

Italy continues to base its vociferous arguments for the return of the 'murderous' duo on the ground that the SUA carries a death penalty, despite virtually official assurances by the Indian government that they will not be hanged.

And, indeed, many observers are disgusted by the Indian assurances to Italy, which seem to show a lack of confidence. ''It should be well known to the Italian authorities that the country's juridical system awards the death sentence only in the 'rarest of rare cases', and this is clearly not one such,'' said one observer.