The case of two Italian marines and their trial in India is a "bilateral" issue, UN General Assembly President John Ashe said today, days after he had told Italy that he will try and raise the issue with Indian leadership during his visit to New Delhi this week.
Italy's Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of the Interior Angelino Alfano met Ashe here on March 17 and "briefed him on the situation of the two-year-old case of the two Italian marines in India", a readout of the meeting released by Ashe's spokesperson had said.
"In response, President Ashe informed the Minister that in the course of his imminent State visit to India, he will be alert for whatever opportunity presents itself to raise the issue," the statement had said.
However, in a clarification, Ashe's office now said the issue is a bilateral one between India and Italy.
"The (Italian) Deputy Prime Minister briefed the President of the General Assembly on issues of priority for the country...and on the situation of the two-year-old case of two Italian marines in India. In recognition of the bilateral nature of the issue, President Ashe took due note of the points highlighted by Minister Alfano," the clarified statement by Ashe's spokesperson said.
Ashe is on a three-day visit to India that began on March 19. During the visit, he met Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Minister of External Affairs Salman Khurshid.
When asked if he took up the Italian marines case with India, Ashe said the General Assembly deals with multilateral and not bilateral issues. "I am the President of the General Assembly. The Assembly deals with multilateral issues."
Italy has said it will take up at the "international level" the issue of its two marines being held in India. Italy has also appealed to the United Nations to help free the marines who are being tried for killing two Indian fishermen.
Alfano also met UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon this week but according to information provided by the office of Ban's spokesperson, there was no mention of the issue of the Italian marines and their trial in India.
Ahead of his meeting with Ban, Alfano was quoted as saying by the ANSA news agency that Italy is willing to try the marines "at home, but we ask for their freedom".
Marines Massimiliano Latorre and Salvatore Girone shot dead two fishermen off the Kerala coast in February 2012, sparking diplomatic tensions between India and Italy. The marines, currently staying in the Italian Embassy in New Delhi awaiting trial, said they mistook the fishermen for pirates.
India has removed the possibility of a death penalty but insisted that the marines would still be prosecuted under the anti-piracy law and face up to 10 years in prison.
Italy has said that the marines should be tried in Italy since the incident took place in international waters.
However, New Delhi said it has the right to try the Italians as the victims were Indians on board an Indian fishing boat.