The two Italian marines, Massimiliano Latorre (L) and Salvatore Girone, shown in Kochi, India on Dec. 18, 2012 awaiting their return to Italy for the holidays. REUTERS/Sivaram V

The two Italian marines, Massimiliano Latorre (L) and Salvatore Girone, shown in Kochi, India on Dec. 18, 2012 awaiting their return to Italy for the holidays. REUTERS/Sivaram V

By Margherita Stancati

Two Italian marines who were jailed last year for allegedly killing two fishermen off the coast of Kerala returned to India after authorities here allowed them to spend the Christmas holidays in Italy.

An official at the Kollam district court in the southern state of Kerala said the two men appeared before judicial authorities on their return Friday morning. Attempts to reach the marines — Salvatore Girone and Massimiliano Latorre — were not successful.

Italy and India have sparred over the marines’ detention. The men were stationed on a commercial Italian ship to provide security from pirate attacks. The ship was involved in an incident with a fishing vessel in February as it passed near India’s southern tip, the details of which remain in dispute.

Italian officials have said the men fired overhead warning shots at the boat, which came too close, but have given few other details. India says the men shot and killed two fisherman on the boat.

After the incident, the Italian ship came into Kochi port in Kerala to report what happened. They were arrested and later charged by the Kollam district court with murdering the fisherman. Indian officials have argued the marines should be tried locally because the fisherman who died were Indian. The marines pleaded not-guilty. They were released on bail in June but were banned from leaving the country.

Italy argues the marines cannot be tried in India as the incident happened in international waters and it has filed a petition with India’s Supreme Court arguing the men should be tried in Rome. The Supreme Court has not ruled on that petition. Although the trial is set to start at the court in Kollam on Jan. 15, the hearing is likely to be postponed pending the Supreme Court’s decision.

To win the return of the men for Christmas, Italy put a bond of $1 million with the Kerala High Court, which is refundable upon their return to India. Local authorities in Kerala had opposed allowing the men to leave, fearing they would not come back.

During their break, the two men received a warm welcome in Italy — a reminder of the strong public support they enjoy at home. They were met on their arrival at Rome’s airport on Dec. 22 by Italy’s foreign and defense ministers. They also visited Italy’s President Giorgio Napolitano during their stay. A right-wing politician went as far as inviting them to stand for elections with his party in upcoming general elections.

(c) 2013 Dow Jones & Company, Inc.

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