India and Italy hold talks over fishermen's deaths

The Napoli registered Italian merchant vessel Enrica Lexie (L) is anchored off the harbour in the southern Indian city of Kochi February 16, 2012
Image caption The shooting incident has heightened diplomatic tensions between the two countries

The foreign ministers of Italy and India have agreed that the row over the killing of two Indian fishermen must be amicably addressed.

After talks in Delhi, Giulio Terzi and SM Krishna said the two sides agreed on the need "to clear the air".

Two Italian marines providing security on an oil tanker involved in the incident are being held in India and are being investigated for murder.

Italy said they fired warning shots, mistaking the fishermen for pirates.

India said the fishermen were unarmed.

'Difference of opinion'

After their meeting, the two foreign ministers tried to play down the incident.

"There is a very strong public opinion on both sides. We have agreed that we need to clear the air," Mr Krishna told reporters after the talks.

"Our relationship is mature and based on a strong foundation and we have the maturity to address this challenge together," he said.

The Italian foreign minister said: "We continue to pursue this issue in a very friendly spirit of understanding and cooperation".

Mr Terzi admitted that there was "a difference of opinion which is not resolved".

The two countries have so far been unable to agree on how to deal with the issue.

There have been a number of meetings so far between Italian and Indian officials. Italy's deputy foreign minister Steffan de Mistura visited India last week.

Image caption The foreign ministers acknowledged their two countries had a difference of opinion

Italy insists that its personnel cannot be charged under Indian law. It says the marines have immunity as the tanker was flying an Italian flag and was in international waters when the incident happened.

But India wants the marines to be tried under local laws and has registered a case of murder against the men, who could face the death penalty or life imprisonment if found guilty.

Italy says the Indian fishing boat had behaved aggressively and ignored warning shots from their ship, the oil tanker MV Enrica Lexie.

The Enrica Lexie was on its way from Singapore to Egypt, with a crew of 34, including 19 Indians. The Italians say the crew members were acting in self-defence by firing warning shots - because they feared their vessel was about to be attacked.

The incident took place off the coast of southern India's Kerala state.

The Kerala government has authorised a payment of 500,000 rupees ($10,125; £6,450) each to the dead fishermen's families.

The Italian marines - identified as Massimiliano Latorre and Salvatore Girone - were providing security for the tanker. They have been sent to judicial custody for 14 days.

Piracy has emerged as a major threat to merchant ships in the Indian Ocean and the Arabian Sea, with Somali pirates hijacking ships and their crews for ransom.

But there have been fewer attacks recently, partly because more armed guards are now deployed on board ships.

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