Chandy promises to safeguard their rights

Italian Defence Minister Admiral (retd.) Giampaolo Di Paola met Kerala Chief Minister Oommen Chandy on Thursday and demanded that the government extend the courtesy and rights due to prisoners of war to the two Italian marines arrested in connection with the shooting of two Indian fishermen from an Italian-flagged vessel off the coast of Kerala on February 15.

Officials said Admiral Di Paola, a former Chief of Staff of the Italian Armed Forces, stressed the point that the remand prisoners were serving soldiers. He demanded that they be housed in separate quarters with sufficient facilities for their physical and mental wellbeing. He reportedly said that the international convention on the humanitarian treatment of prisoners of war guaranteed such minimum rights. Mr. Chandy said the judiciary was considering the case and the political executive could not and did not interfere with the country's criminal justice system. There was only a minimum the State government could do in the matter. The marines would be extended all rights and protection guaranteed by the law of the land.

The court had ordered that the marines be given their staple diet. They were allowed to meet Italian consulate officers periodically.

Additional Chief Secretary K. Jayakumar; State police chief Jacob Punnose; Additional Director General of Police, Prisons, Alexander Jacob; Additional Director General of Police, South Zone, P. Chandrasekhar; and Inspector General of Police Shiekh Darvesh Sahib were present during the meeting.

Earlier, Admiral Di Paola and a 15-member delegation comprising Italian diplomats and high-ranking military personnel arrived at the sprawling 125-year-old Central Prison complex here in a cavalcade of government and police vehicles. Superintendent of the prison B. Pradeep Kumar ushered the Italian Minister to his room, where he met and interacted with the marines in person for at least an hour.

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