News Analysis: Marines dispute poses threat to Italian-Indian relations

Source:Xinhua Published: 2014-2-11 23:07:56

The case of the two Italian marines kept in India for alleged murder was having repercussions on bilateral relations in a dispute that Italian experts see as resolvable, though with great difficulty, only with the help of the international community.

Massimiliano Latorre and Salvatore Girone were in New Delhi awaiting charges for allegedly shooting dead two fishermen mistaken for pirates while guarding an Italian oil-tanker off the coast of Kerala in 2012.

Italy said the accident took place in international waters, while India insisted the pair should be tried on its soil. Two years of bitter exchange between the two countries failed to produce a solution.

"The dispute has fueled a diplomatic row that indeed has driven a wedge between Italy and India," Vittorio Emanuele Parsi, director of the Postgraduate School of Economics and International Relations at the Catholic University of Milan, told Xinhua.

On Monday, the Indian Supreme Court postponed a much-awaited ruling on whether to charge the marines with a harsh antiterrorism law. Latorre and Girone would face up to 10 years in prison if convicted under the law, which also bears death penalty.

In Parsi's view, India will further escalate the row in view of the national elections due in May. The Congress, led by the Nehru-Gandhi dynasty that has ruled India for most of the 66 years since independence and chaired by Italian-born Sonia Gandhi, will face the Hindu nationalist party.

However, Parsi also added, sheltering behind what he defined as "absurd decisions against the international law" at the end would not be convenient to India, whose economy "strongly needs the support of the international community."

"Italy can appeal to the UN, endangering India's position and isolating the Asian country on the international level," he highlighted. Italy's participation in future NATO or EU anti-piracy missions could be also put at risk, Parsi said.

Marco Restelli, a journalist focused on Asia and a professor of Indian culture at the University of Milan, agreed with Parsi that "Italy has lost a lot of precious time."

As a result, the diplomatic relations between the two countries "have suffered damage" whose effects were "already visible in an impact on commercial relations that have a bit worsened," he pointed out.

"Now Italy only has a few cards to play," namely seeking the international help, Restelli explained to Xinhua. "Italian Foreign Minister Emma Bonino did the right choice calling on the European Union to urgently intervene because the case was dramatic," he noted.

Bonino on Monday said she was sure of global and European support in resolving the case. She said Italy may also appeal to the United Nations if Indian Supreme Court approves the charges.

"These are eventual roads, everything is on the table," Bonino underlined echoing the words of Italian Prime Minister Enrico Letta who said earlier on the same day that "Italy and the European Union will react" reserving the right "to take any action."

The causes for the escalating row between the two countries, Restelli stressed, were to be found "in the previous Italian government's bad handling of the case in the beginning."

He said the most serious blow to the diplomatic relations was given by Italy's U-turn decision to send back the marines to India after they came home to vote in February last year.

Italy had promised to send back the pair but announced it would not to then change idea again. Following the episode, the then Italian Foreign Minister Giulio Terzi resigned.

"Italy showed a poor knowledge of India. Having to do with an Asian country, you must use respect," Restelli said. In the marines case, he added, the then Italian government "neither respected India nor pretended respect from India. The damage was done."

The expert noted a country could use political or economic incentives to solve this situation. "Applying economic sanctions, however, would be not to the advantage of Italy, which already lies behind other European member states in the commercial exchange with India," he said.

An Indian history professor at Ca' Foscari University of Venice, Stefano Beggiora, also believed that eventual repercussions at the global level due to the marines case could impact India. The Asian country, he recalled, had announced an ambitious program some years ago to focus on international investments and security missions on its coasts.

"I just returned from a journey to India and I could perceive a sort of concern over the case among the local population," Beggiora told Xinhua.

He noted that "similar episodes had already happened in the past in India regarding accidents with other countries, but were resolved quickly."

This time, things went differently due to mutual misunderstanding and to the proximity of national elections, the professor said. "But the relations between Italy and India were traditionally good and I am convinced they can return to normality after the right time has passed," he added.

Posted in: Asia-Pacific

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