* Use of law sore point in international dispute
* New Italian PM Renzi says personally following case
* Italians, on bail in India, deny aiming at boat
(Adds comment from Italian prime minister)
NEW DELHI, Feb 24 - India has dropped a plan to
prosecute two Italian marines accused of killing two Indian
fishermen under a tough anti-piracy law, a government lawyer
said on Monday, offering a chance to end a diplomatic row
between the two countries.
Italy had strongly opposed India invoking the law, arguing
that it would amount to treating the men as terrorists and last
week it recalled its ambassador to New Delhi in protest against
the delay in the two-year-old case.
The sailors, part of a military security team protecting a
privately owned cargo ship, say they mistook the fishermen for
pirates and fired warning shots into the water during the
incident in February 2012, off the coast of Kerala state.
Indian attorney general Ghoolam Vahanvati told the Supreme
Court on Monday the prosecution did not intend to proceed
against Massimiliano Latorre and Salvatore Girone under the
anti-piracy section of the Suppression of Unlawful Acts. He gave
"We want to delete the anti-piracy clause," he said. The men
can still be tried under India's criminal laws, but the
punishment in case of a conviction is ordinarily less stringent
than under the piracy law.
Nevertheless, new Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi made
it clear on Monday that the issue will remain a priority under
his government, saying that he had made two "symbolic telephone
calls" to the marines as one of his first acts as premier since
his Saturday swearing in.
"I chose to call the two marines because for too long they
have been stuck in New Delhi in an absurd and infuriating affair
for which I guarantee my personal effort and that of the
government," Renzi told the Senate in his first parliamentary
The dispute over the marines has stoked international
tension and the European Union had expressed concerns about the
use of the anti-piracy law. There is wide public support for the
marines in Italy, while in India, supporters of harsh penalties
for the men have marched on the streets.
India had originally sought to prosecute the marines under
the piracy law partly because the incident occurred outside the
geographical area covered by the country's criminal code.
It said, however, that the sailors would not face the death
penalty, which the anti-piracy law usually carries, because it
has not permitted the investigation agency handling the case to
invoke that particular clause in the legislation.
India's Supreme Court on Monday said it would rule on
whether the National Investigation Agency which handles cases
relating to national security should investigate the fishermen's
deaths at its next hearing. It gave no date for the session.
The top court ruled over a year ago that a trial would take
place in India, but charges have not yet been filed. Defence
lawyers for Italy and the marines maintain that the incident
happened beyond India's jurisdiction.
The delays in filing charges, not unusual in India's
notoriously slow legal system, spurred Italy to approach the
Supreme Court last month demanding a nod for the marines to
return home and a block on any use of the anti-piracy law.
The two men deny killing anyone or aiming directly at the
fishing boat. They are on bail but cannot leave India.
(Reporting by Suchitra Mohanty, and Naomi O'Leary in Rome;
Writing by Sanjeev Miglani; Editing by Ron Popeski and Alison