NEW DELHI — India ratcheted up its diplomatic standoff with Italy over a shooting last year, issuing orders at major airports and seaports Friday that the Italian ambassador was not allowed to leave the country without permission.
The move could send relations into uncharted territory, given international conventions against detaining diplomats. While it’s not unusual for countries to expel diplomats during a disagreement, it’s far less common to detain them.
India also canceled the posting of its own ambassador to Italy, according to local media reports, and it threatened to review all business and trade ties between the two countries.
Relations spiraled downhill when two Italian marines on a passing oil tanker shot and killed two Indian fishermen in February 2012, reportedly mistaking them for pirates. Indian prosecutors charged the two marines with murder.
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The Italians said the small fishing craft sailing toward them in international waters ignored repeated warning shots and appeared menacing. Fellow fishermen from India’s southern state of Kerala said they were veering away from the larger ship in Indian waters and said there were no warning shots before the marines opened fire.
After months of detention, India’s Supreme Court agreed to let the two marines, Massimiliano Latorre and Salvatore Girone, travel to Italy to celebrate Easter and vote in the recent general election after Italian Ambassador Daniele Mancini signed an affidavit that they would return to face charges.
But the Italian government said Monday that the men weren’t going back to India, saying the shooting happened outside Indian jurisdiction, but it pledged to have the men tried in Italy.
In response, Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh on Wednesday warned Italy of “consequences” if the marines weren’t returned, accusing it of “violating every rule of diplomatic discourse.”
This was followed Thursday by a Supreme Court order that Mancini, the Italian ambassador, remain in the country pending a resolution, leading to Friday’s notice. “The Home Ministry issued an advisory today to immigration authorities that (the ambassador) should take permission if he is leaving the country,” Kuldeep Singh Dhatwalia, a ministry spokesman, said Friday.
The issue has put the Congress Party-led Indian government on the defensive in the run-up to a 2014 election. The political opposition is calling it weak for not standing up to Italy, even as India’s hyperactive media suggest national pride is at stake. The Supreme Court feels slighted. And the two grieving families of the dead fishermen are calling for justice.