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Originally published Friday, March 22, 2013 at 1:37 AM

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Indian leaders welcome return of Italian marines

Italy's decision to send two Marines back to India to face trial in the killing of two fishermen has healed a diplomatic rift between the two nations, India's foreign minister said Friday.

The Associated Press

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NEW DELHI —

Italy's decision to send two Marines back to India to face trial in the killing of two fishermen has healed a diplomatic rift between the two nations, India's foreign minister said Friday.

The fate of the marines had badly clouded relations between the two countries, with an angry Prime Minister Manmohan Singh demanding the men be returned to India as promised or Italy would face unspecified consequences.

Italy backed down Friday, agreeing to send them back on condition they not be subject to the death penalty if convicted, said Salman Khurshid, India's foreign minister. India assured them this was not a capital case, he said.

"We have a valuable relationship with Italy," Khurshid told reporters. The fact that the incident "did not derail our relationship, and that things are back on track and are normal is a matter of satisfaction."

Singh also praised Italy's decision.

"We are very happy the Italian government is upholding the integrity and dignity of the Indian judicial process," he said.

Khurshid said he told Italy the marines would not be arrested if they returned to India as scheduled Friday. Instead, they would be allowed to continue living in the Italian Embassy.

The Indian Supreme Court allowed the marines to return home last month to vote in the Italian election in exchange for a promise from the Italian ambassador that they would return within four weeks. The marines, Massimiliano Latorre and Salvatore Girone, had returned from a similar trip home over Christmas without incident.

But this time, after the marines flew home, the Italian government announced they would not be coming back, triggering a diplomatic crisis. The Italian foreign ministry said the decision to try them in India violated their rights.

India's Supreme Court, contending the Italian ambassador had reneged on his promise, barred him from leaving the country. It also contended that his actions could nullify his diplomatic immunity.

The Indian Supreme Court ruled earlier this year that the men should be tried by a special court to be set up by the central government in consultation with the chief justice. The decision removed the case from the jurisdiction of the southern state of Kerala, near where the shooting took place.

The marines were part of a military security team on a cargo ship when they fired at a fishing boat in February 2012, killing the two fishermen. The marines said they mistook the fishing boat for a pirate craft.

India contends the shooting happened in Indian waters, while Italy has insisted the shooting happened in international waters during an international anti-piracy mission and Italy should have jurisdiction.

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