Indian court to announce where Italian sailors will be tried

New Delhi Thu Jan 17, 2013 11:22am EST

Italian sailors Salvatore Girone (L) and Massimiliano Latorre sit in a private boat after appearing at the police commissioner office in the southern Indian city of Kochi November 14, 2012. REUTERS/Sivaram V

Italian sailors Salvatore Girone (L) and Massimiliano Latorre sit in a private boat after appearing at the police commissioner office in the southern Indian city of Kochi November 14, 2012.

Credit: Reuters/Sivaram V

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New Delhi (Reuters) - India's top court will announce its decision on Friday on whether the two Italian sailors accused of killing Indian fishermen will face trial in New Delhi or Rome, two lawyers involved in the case told Reuters on Thursday.

The two sailors, members of a military security team protecting the cargo ship Enrica Lexie from pirate attacks, say they mistook the fisherman for pirates when they shot at their boat near the coast of the southern Indian state of Kerala in February.

The incident sparked a diplomatic row between Italy and India, with Rome challenging India's right to try the sailors in the New Delhi Supreme Court last year because the shooting took place in international waters.

Indian authorities, meanwhile, accuse the sailors of killing unarmed fishermen in a "contiguous zone" where Indian law applies.

"The court will pronounce its judgment on the marines tomorrow," said Ramesh Babu, the public prosecutor of Kerala state, which wants the sailors to be tried in India.

"We've argued our case fully well. Let's wait and see what the court decides because we can't speculate on the judgment right now."

If the Supreme Court's decision favors the Italian marines, that would allow the men to return to Rome for trial under Italian jurisdiction. If not, they will head back to a lower court in Kerala, where they will be tried under Indian law, Babu said.

A lawyer representing the Italians also confirmed to Reuters that the Supreme Court would give its decision on Friday, almost a month after Italy expressed "strong disappointment" that the court had delayed the decision on where the men would face trial.

Attacks on ships have increased on the eastern side of the Arabian Sea as better security around the Horn of Africa has forced Somali pirates to range as far as the Maldives. The waters close to India are generally considered safer.

(Editing by Matthias Williams and David Goodman)

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