India alerts airports to stop Italian envoy leaving: Source

NEW DELHI (AFP) - India's airports have been put on alert to prevent Italy's ambassador leaving the country amid a dispute over two Italian marines who skipped bail while on trial in Delhi, a home ministry source said on Friday.

The source quoted an order faxed to immigration authorities as saying: "Immigration authorities have been alerted that Daniele Mancini should not leave without permission."

Another senior home ministry official told AFP: "The home ministry is just following the Supreme Court's order of preventing the Italian ambassador from leaving India."

"He will have to inform the immigration authorities if he wants to leave the country."

The Supreme Court ordered on Thursday that ambassador Mancini, who had negotiated the release of the marines so they could return home to vote, should remain in India until the next hearing about the dispute on Monday.

Rome announced earlier in the week that it was reneging on commitments to send back Massimiliano Latorre and Salvatore Girone, who face murder charges over the death of two Indian fishermen in February last year.

Mr Mancini signed an affidavit giving his personal assurance that the two marines would return.

The Supreme Court ruling appeared to run contrary to diplomatic norms guaranteeing the freedom of movement of foreign envoys and risks a further souring of relations between Rome and New Delhi.

Article 29 of the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations of 1961 states that diplomats shall "not be liable to any form of arrest or detention".

But India's foreign ministry has argued that "if the diplomatic agent willingly submits to the jurisdiction of a court, then that jurisdiction applies".

The marines shot dead the fishermen off India's southwestern coast when a fishing boat sailed close to an Italian oil tanker they were guarding. They say they mistook the fishermen for pirates.

Italy insists the marines should be prosecuted in their home country because the shootings involved an Italian-flagged vessel in international waters, but India says the killings took place in waters under its jurisdiction.

Relations between the two countries have also been soured by the corruption allegations surrounding a US$748 million (S$934 million) deal for the purchase of 12 Italian helicopters which the Indian government is now threatening to scrap.

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