Stepping up pressure on India for release of two Italian marines currently detained in the country on charges of killing two Indian fishermen, Italy ‘s Defence Minister Giampaolo Di Paolo, on Sunday expressed the wish that the marines be allowed to join their family in Italy for celebrating Christmas.

Speaking to media after calling on marines Massimiliano Latore and Salvatore Girone at Kochi on Sunday, the defence minister said Italy expects an early solution to the issue according to Indian laws and international justice. He added that his country respected the Supreme Court of India.

The marines who were sent to Thiruvananthapuram Central Jail in Kerala had got conditional bail in June. But they were not allowed to leave the country. The marines who were employed as security personnel of the Italian ship Enrica Lexie were arrested by Indian security agencies on February 19 for allegedly killing two Indian fishermen on February 15. The marines allegedly mistook them for pirates and shot them.

When contacted, advocate-general of Kerala, K.P Dandapani, who represents Kerala government in the case, said the Italian government has moved an application before Kerala High Court seeking relaxation of bail norms to allow marines to go to Italy. They are entitled to move the application and it is for the court to decide the matter, he said.

The Supreme Court has reserved its verdict on the plea of Italian government challenging the jurisdiction of Indian courts to try marines. Italy’s argument is that the shooting took place in international waters and only Italian courts have the right to try marines.

The Italian Defence Minister who arrived in Kochi Saturday night from Afghanistan after visiting Italian soldiers said he came to say hello to the marines. “They are in active duty. It is my responsibility to come here. They are still in a mission,” said Di Paolo.

Addressing Indians, the minister noted that India is a land of festivals and none understands the importance of a festival like Christmas more than the Indians. I am confident that Indians understand the need of marines to celebrate Christmas along with their family. Di Paolo also expressed the hope that the solution for the issue could be arrived soon.

Italy had recently summoned Indian ambassador to the country and expressed its concern over delay in solving the issue of marines.

The minister was accompanied by an eight member high-level-team who included Italian Ambassador to India Giacomo Sarfelice. He left Kochi by noon.

2012 Living Media India Limited