An Indian court on Monday ordered two Italian marines held in jail while officials investigate last month's killing of two Indian fishermen at sea, and Italy expressed its "strongest concern" about the transfer.

In a case that has tested India's relations with Italy, the marines are accused of shooting the fishermen Feb. 15 after mistaking them for pirates off India's southwest coast. The marines had been providing security on a cargo ship.

A court in the southern state of Kerala remanded the Italians to custody for another two weeks and ordered they be moved to jail from a guest house in the southern city of Kochi, where they've been held since Feb. 19.

Chief Judicial Magistrate A.K. Gopakumar also denied the marines' plea for jail privileges granted in Italy to military, saying Indian law granted no such favors.

Gopakumar said, however, that the men could be housed apart from other inmates at the Central Prison in Thiruvananthapuram, and could see Italian visitors for an hour a day.

A top official of the Italian Foreign Ministry, Secretary-General Giampiero Massolo, told India's charge d'affaires in Rome such measures were unacceptable and underlined the sensitivity of the men's status to Italy's government and public, the ministry said.

"Ambassador Massolo reiterated the firm request that every effort be made to promptly find suitable structures and conditions" for the soldiers' stay in India, the ministry's statement said.

Italy's Foreign Minister Guilio Terzi traveled to New Delhi last week to press his country's position that the men should be tried in an Italian court, but India refused to cede jurisdiction.

New Delhi says the case should be tried in India because the killings happened on an Indian boat. Rome says the shooting took place in international waters and the case should be handled in Italy.

Kerala's Chief Minister Oommen Chandy on Monday said the Italians would be shown no leniency. India says Italian observers can sit in on the court proceedings.

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.




TOWNHALL MEDIA GROUP