"The government of India is never known to interfere in the judicial process," says Krishna

Despite vigorous diplomatic activity by Rome including a Prime Minister-to-Prime Minister telephonic conversation, New Delhi is unwilling to short-circuit the unfolding judicial process against two Italian marines — Massimiliano Lattore and Salvatore Girone —accused of killing two unarmed Indian fishermen, mistaking them for pirates, in February.

“I think when the judicial process is on, the government of India is never known to interfere in the judicial process,” External Affairs Minister S.M. Krishna said on a day when he engaged in diplomatic persuasion with Angola over the fate of Indian workers after industrial unrest in a cement plant there turned violent.

Assurance

In a telephonic conversation on Tuesday evening, Angolan Foreign Minister Georges Chickoty assured Mr. Krishna that the contractual commitments of the workers would be met. To a request by Mr. Krishna, he agreed to ensure early repatriation of those who were not interested in working in the cement plant.

As a matter of priority, workers in custody would be sent back over the next few days and those who wanted to continue working would be assured of safe and secure working conditions. More than 500 of the 900 Indian workers had already gone back to work.

The External Affairs Ministry has simultaneously tried to rebut alarmist reports about Indian workers in Angola, with its spokesperson Syed Akbaruddin saying: “There is no starvation out there. Of course, they are in a difficult situation, and we are trying to work it out with authorities. Right now, one of our embassy officials is in Sumbe, trying to work it out with the company officials there.”

Some missing

Some of the workers were missing, perhaps having left the premises, following confrontation with the police and the management, he said. “Our hope is to try and work it out with the company, to try and resolve the issue amicably and assist our nationals wherever they are in distress,” said Mr. Akbaruddin. On the marines issue, Mr. Krishna, replying to a question whether there was pressure from Italy to release Lattore and Girone, said, “Absolutely not.”

Italy has gone into diplomatic overdrive soon after the Kerala police arrested the marines on February 19 and sent them to the Central Prison in Thiruvanathapuram after a standoff, during which the two refused to leave their ship.

Rome's all-out efforts

Initially, Italy engaged in talks with Indian diplomats and even tried exploring the Vatican's good offices to get the marines off the hook. Rome renewed its efforts after a Kollam court last week denied them bail, and immediately expressed its unhappiness, recalling its Ambassador here to Rome for “consultations.”

The Indian Ambassador in Rome was also called to the Foreign Minister Giulio Terzi's office and informed of Italy's position — that the incident took place in international waters and the marines were posted on a merchant vessel following legislation passed by Italy, which meant India had no authority to prosecute them.

On the Indian advisory on traders in China, Mr. Krishna said: “When I was in China and when the Chinese Foreign Minister came to Delhi, we discussed the plight of the traders and the talks are continuing.”

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