A "potential diplomatic crisis was avoided" as Italy brought back its two marines to face trial in India for killing two Indian fishermen after New Delhi's assurance that they would not face the death penalty or be arrested on their return, Italian deputy foreign minister Staffan de Mistura said in New Delhi on Friday.
Addressing a press conference at the Italian embassy in New Delhi, Mistura said the marines were asked to go back to India after receiving a letter from Indian authorities Thursday in Rome "guaranteeing that in this case no question of death penalty could even be envisaged and that the marines on their return would have the same status as they had earlier".
The marines – Massimiliano Latore and Salvatore Girone – returned to India late on Friday evening and are in the Italian embassy in New Delhi.
Mistura, who met external affairs minister Salman Khurshid, said that in Italy, "death penalty is a serious issue for us".
He said when the Supreme Court said in January that a special court should be set up to try the case "that is when the issue of death penalty became a crucial aspect in Italy".
Mistura said that according to Italian law, no accused person is allowed to go back to a country if there is a death penalty against him.
"The Italian authorities will be obliged according to law not to allow them to go back."
The setting up a special court "produced the exceptional aspect of a suspension of the affidavit" by Ambassador Daniele Mancini to court guaranteeing that the marines would return after voting in Italy, he said.
Stating that "we do believe the word of honour by an Italian ambassador and official is sacred", the issue of possible death penalty overruled all considerations and they "had to obtain guarantees".
Mistura said the special court should be set up quickly and its proceedings expedited.
"We want justice, clarity," he said, adding that Italy's official position remains that two military officials acting on behalf of state in international waters should be judged in their own country.