“They are to board a special flight for Kochi at 9 p.m. local time on Thursday”

“It is very likely that the two Italian marines will return to India tomorrow although I cannot confirm this news,” a senior Italian government official told The Hindu in a telephonic interview on Thursday.

“I know that their lawyer Vijay Bhanu has given an interview to the PTI news agency saying they will be returning. He is a responsible individual and if he has given such assurances it is probably true. I am not in a position to confirm it at the moment although I can say that it is very probable,” he said.

The Italian government was following the case closely. It was confident the Indian Supreme Court would rule in favour of the Italian position, that the marines who shot and killed two unarmed Kerala fishermen on February 19 last year, mistaking them for Somali pirates, should be extradited and tried in Italy as the shooting took place in the international waters and not in the exclusive Indian zone, he said.

Mr. Bhanu told PTI: “they are to board a special flight for Kochi at 9 p.m. local time tonight and arrive in India by 8.30 a.m. on January 4 in time for their court appearance.”

Marines Massimiliano Latorre and Salvatore Girone were posted on board merchant vessel Enrica Lexie to protect the ship and its crew from Somali pirates. They were under arrest and allowed special leave to return home for Christmas after the Italian government gave its word they would return for the Supreme Court’s verdict on the case.

If their return to their country was greeted with a certain degree of joy – President Giorgio Napolitano met the two men, their possible departure for India on Thursday night failed to cause much comment.

Italy remains in the grip of post Christmas festivity and most offices will reopen only after Epiphany next Monday. Ordinary people this correspondent spoke to felt the marines should be tried in Italy.

“After all they were only doing their duty. The ships were in the international waters. They did not mean to kill these fishermen and Italy is prepared to compensate the victims’ families. The motive must be looked at by the court. Why are they being tried for murder? At the most they should be tried for manslaughter since it was a genuine mistake and an accident. They should be tried by an Italian court,” said law student Giuseppe Corte.

Retired professor Emilio Renato said, “This incident should not derail the otherwise excellent relations between the two countries. I have been to India many times and Indians are as emotional a people as Italians. I can understand the heartbreak. But these were very young sailors and they must have panicked. Unfortunately there has been a loss of life. But they are by no means murderers. The Indian court should ensure compensation for the families and allow these you young men to return home to serve their sentences.”

The marines, on their return to Italy, publicly stated that they had given their word to go back and that they would honour their promise.

Italian Foreign Minister Giulio Terzi thanked the Supreme Court for showing “consideration” to the marines by allowing them to reunite with their families for Christmas.

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