Italian media cast doubts on Indian version of events
Once again qualifying the actions taken by local police forces in the arrest of two Italian naval personnel in Kochi as “coercive and unilateral,” Rome on Tuesday decided to send junior Foreign Minister Staffan De Mistura to India.
As the row over the two Indian fishermen shot dead by Italian naval personnel intensified, the Italian Foreign Ministry, the Farnesina, announced Minister Giulio Terzi would himself be travelling to India next Tuesday.
A communiqué issued by the Italian Foreign Ministry said that Foreign Minister Giulio Terzi had instructed Mr. De Mistura to “continue, at the political level, through contacts at a higher level, including with the State authorities in Kochi and the federal authorities in New Delhi, the action undertaken by experts from the ministries of Foreign Affairs, Defence and Justice.”
“As regards press reports on the coercive operations carried out by Indian police forces against the crew of the Italian ship, we confirm that these were unilateral acts, as we have already indicated in a communiqué published on 19 February,” the communiqué continued.
When contacted by The Hindu, the press office at the Farnesina ruled out any possibility of further clarifications either through the Foreign Ministry spokesperson or other senior officials.
“The Minister has expressed his views in the communiqué. The spokesperson will not add any other details at this moment. The Minister has also clarified the Italian position on the divergences on the positions of the two countries,” Filippo Manara of the Ministry’s press office told The Hindu.
The Indian Ambassador in Rome did not return calls.
Italy continues to be at pains to underline that the presence of armed naval personnel on board a merchant ship flying the Italian flag is ruled by a specific Italian law which is in keeping with U.N. resolutions regarding the fight against piracy at sea.
However, Italian media, including respected titles like Corriere Della Sera have taken a mystifyingly jingoistic position, casting doubts on the Indian version of events. Initially the media suggested that the Enerica Lexie may not have been the vessel sought by Indian authorities as there were “at least four other vessels in the vicinity at the time.”
Readers' comments too have been frankly anti-Indian. “Our soldiers cannot be tried by a third world country,” wrote one reader. Another used just one word to describe his or her frustration –"Indiani!!!" as if to say “what can be expected of Indians, after all.”
Italy’s Defence Ministry continues to claim that the Indian fishing trawler was behaving “aggressively”. The Corriere della Sera has carried long extracts from the declarations made by one of the arrested Italians, Massimiliano Latorre, who claimed that the third time the fishing boat was fired at, it turned around and sped away and that there was no damage and no victims.
In an article based on details given by Defence Ministry sources journalist Fiorenza Sarzanini wrote that satellite images confirmed that the Italian tanker was in international waters at the time of the shooting. She also said that the Italian navy had ordered the two marines on board not to obey the order of the Indian authorities. “
In his report two days ago to the Carabinieri ROS special operations group and the Rome public prosecutor’s office, Massimiliano Latorre reconstructed the sequence of events off the Indian coast. The report names those who fired and denies that there could have been any casualties, far less victims. Latorre was in charge of the security unit on board the oil tanker Enrica Lexie to protect it from pirates and he is the author of the report, complete with photographs, which public prosecutor Francesco Scavo Lombardo will use to investigate the incident. Latorre and Salvatore Girone face charges of murdering two seamen on the St. Antony fishing vessel. The case file also contains statements from the five other service personnel on board and the conclusions of the unit’s leader,” Ms Sarzanani writes.
However, she says, the versions of the Indians and the Italians differ significantly, especially concerning the time of the incident, the precise position of the vessel at the time and the vessel that “attacked” the tanker. “Why did the Italians, who reported they were in international waters, nonetheless enter the Indian-controlled zone, enabling the arrest of the two marines? And why did they do so despite the objections of the Italian navy?” Ms. Sarzanini asks.
The difference in timings and locations in the version offered by the two governments could mean that the fishermen could have been killed in another incident altogether, the Corriere suggests. “Latorre enclosed three photographs with his report in an attempt to demonstrate precisely this inconsistency, claiming that the fishing boat is not the dead seamen’s vessel St. Antony. However, the poorly focused photographs are of little help in clearing this up. Neither do they clarify whether, as the marines maintain, that there were five armed men – not fishermen – on the boat,” the article says.