Updated: 02/18/2014 19:11 | By Agence France-Presse

Indian court delays Italian marines case

India's attorney general on Tuesday sought more time to prosecute two Italian marines accused of killing two fishermen, as Rome recalled its ambassador in protest over delays in the case.

Indian court delays Italian marines case

Italian marines Massimiliano Latorre (right) and Salvatore Girone arrive at Ciampino airport near Rome, on December 22, 2012 - by Vincenzo Pinto

The Supreme Court in New Delhi adjourned the case until Monday after Attorney General Goolam Vahanvati said the government was still working on the matter.

"The matter was under the consideration of the law ministry and I need more time to work out a solution to the issue," Vahanvati told the court.

The case has caused major tensions between the two countries over delays in charging the marines who allegedly shot the fishermen they mistook for pirates off India's southern coast in 2012.

The court had been due on Tuesday to decide on whether to accept the attorney general's request the pair be prosecuted under a maritime security law, that attracts a 10-year sentence.    

Italy on Monday slammed the maritime security charge as "unacceptable", and warned of Italian and EU reaction.

On Tuesday, Italy recalled its ambassador from India for consultations, condemning the "new and unacceptable delay" by the court.

"Given India's evident incapacity in handling this case, Italy will continue and intensify action to defend its sovereign rights in line with international law," Foreign Minister Emma Bonino said.

An Indian foreign ministry spokesman said he had no information or comment on the recall. 

Marines Massimiliano Latorre and Salvatore Girone are accused of shooting the fishermen off the coast of Kerala while serving as security guards on an Italian-flagged cargo ship.

The pair, who have been given bail and are staying at the Italian embassy in Delhi, say they mistook the fishing boat for a pirate vessel and only fired warning shots.

Legal experts have attributed the legal delay to uncertainty over which law to use to prosecute the men.

The delay prompted the Italian marines last month to ask the court to drop any charges against them and allow them to return home.

To speed up the process, the court gave the Indian government a week to make a final decision on the marines' prosecution.

Italy insists the pair should be tried on home soil as the shootings involved an Italian-flagged vessel in what Rome insists were international waters.

India asserts the killings took place in waters under its jurisdiction.

Rome initially refused to send them back to India, triggering a diplomatic stand-off.

Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh promised Italy at the time of the sailors' return they would not face the death penalty.

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