India must show respect for Italy, the country's Defence Minister Giampaolo Di Paola said on Friday, in an escalating row over two Italian soldiers facing murder charges for killing two Indian fishermen.

“We have a lot of respect for India and for the Indian people, but we are expecting equal respect to be shown for Italy, for legality and for international law by the Indian nation,” Mr. Di Paola told reporters in Rome.

The soldiers have been in custody in Kerala since last month on charges of shooting dead the fishermen, who were mistaken for pirates trying to attack an oil tanker that the Italians were protecting.

“The strength with which these two marines are facing up to this extremely difficult challenge should serve as an example and a stimulus for redoubled efforts to resolve this painful incident through international law,” he said.

Italy wants the men to be prosecuted in Italy and not in India, claiming the incident occurred on international waters and on an Italian-flagged ship.

India insists the soldiers should be dealt with under the Indian law.

“Our military must be prosecuted in Italy. They cannot be judged unilaterally, otherwise this would throw into question all our operational activities,” said Italian navy chief Admiral Luigi Binelli Mantelli.

“Let's try and shed light on this incident together, but we will never leave our sailors alone… they were doing their duty and protecting not just the ship but also the 19 crew members on board,” he said.

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