New Delhi/Kochi:  India and Italy on Wednesday stuck to their stand as they tried to defuse the escalating diplomatic row over the killing of two Indian fishermen while Kerala government said it will press for prosecution of the two Italian naval marines involved.

Mounting a diplomatic offensive, Italy's Deputy Foreign Minister Steffan de Mistura rushed to Delhi this morning and met his Indian counterpart Preneet Kaur but the two sides apparently made no headway in resolving the row.

India made it clear that the issue would be handled according to the law of the land and said the "very fair and free judiciary" will take the right decision.

"As far as the law point is concerned, they have their interpretations and we have our interpretations...So as far as we are concerned in India, we certainly will go by our law," Kaur told reporters.

Putting forward Italy's position, Mistura maintained that the incident took place in "international waters".

"This tragic incident needs to be analysed properly and we can continue having a proper dialogue about finding a solution to it," he told reporters after the hour-long meeting. At the same time, he said the ties between the two countries are "very important for all of us".

In Thiruvananthapuram, Chief Minister Oommen Chandy said the government would go ahead with prosecution of the two Italians, saying 'it is the right and power of the state'.

Questioning the jurisdiction of Indian courts and police, Italian Government and the two marines of the oil tanker moved the Kerala High Court seeking quashing of the FIR charging the naval guards with murder of the two fishermen in firing from the ship off the state coast on February 15.

The petition was filed by Italian Consul General in Mumbai Gian Paolo Cutillo and the two accused – Latore Massimiliano and Salvatore Girone, filed the petition seeking to quash the FIR registered by the Kollam police in Kerala.

In a related development, the court admitted a petition by the family of one of the deceased fishermen seeking Rs one crore compensation and directed the owners of Italian vessel Enrica Lexie to furnish a bank guarantee of Rs 25 lakh.
   
The court directed the port authorities to ensure that the ship is detained in the port till the bank guarantee was furnished.

"As far as the law point is concerned, they have their interpretations and we have our interpretations. As of today, the two people (Italian Marines arrested) are on Indian soil and on Thursday the Indian court is going to decide what steps are to be taken further," Kaur said.

"So as far as we are concerned in India, we certainly will go by our law," she said.

Mistura said there was an agreement on three points, but Kaur denied having reached any understanding. "The only agreement is that the law will take its own course," she said.

Expressing regret over the incident, he said: "We do acknowledge that two Indian citizens died. No one doubts it and we are terribly sad. The second one is that the incident took place in international waters and at the same time the investigations will assert the exact position."

"We all want truth. The truth will help us in (finding) proper way of handling the issue," he said and added that he would go to Kerala on Wednesday evening.

Mistura said ties between India and Italy were "very important for all of us" and that the "tragic incident" needs to be analysed properly.

Kerala Chief Minister Chandy said, "The two Italians have been booked under Section 302 of IPC and government's stand is it will proceed with the investigation. It is the right and power of the state. The Centre has extended full support to Kerala's position."

Italy had on Monday said that there were "currently considerable differences of a legal character" on the issue of the arrest of the two Italian soldiers, who opened fire at fishermen mistaking them to be pirates off Kochi coast.

Foreign Minister Giulio Terzi is also slated to visit India next Tuesday.

Kerala to strengthen security along coastal belt

Meanwhile, the Kerala government on Wednesday decided to take steps to ensure security of fishermen along its coastal belt in the wake of the recent killing of two Indian fishermen off the Kollam coast.

"A high-level meeting of top officials from the Navy, Coast Guard, Police and Fisheries Department would be convened soon to discuss the matter," Chief Minister Oommen Chandy told reporters after a cabinet meeting here on Wednesday.

The government would also hold discussions with Organisation of Fishermen to evolve a strategy for protecting fishermen at sea, he said.

Chandy said the steps were being taken as fishermen were feeling insecure after the February 15 incident.

Italian commander defends India shootings soldiers

The commander of the Italian navy's landing forces defended two of his soldiers accused of shooting dead two Indian fishermen, saying the chance of them making a mistake were "very remote".

"They are elite soldiers, the best we have," counter admiral Pasquale Guerra said in an interview with Italian daily Il Giornale on Wednesday.

"They are experts because they have taken part in all our main foreign missions... The chance of them making a mistake is very, very remote," he said.

The soldiers, Massimiliano Latorre and Salvatore Girone, members of the San Marco regiment, were deployed on board an Italian oil tanker to guard against piracy and the Italian defence ministry has said the soldiers believed the pair were pirates.

The tanker was sailing from Singapore to Egypt when the incident took place on Wednesday off the coast of Kerala.

The two men were escorted off the ship and arrested on Sunday and remanded in custody for two weeks as a murder investigation continues.

Guerra said Latorre and Girone would have been very familiar with procedure when their ship is approached by a fast-moving small boat.

"These types of situations have been played out again and again during training for the past 20 years. Nothing is left to chance," he said.

"All the procedures are repeated. From the radio call to the flashing of the Panerai reflectors. In an extreme scenario, first you show your weapon, then fire it into the air, then fire in the water," he said.

Guerra also said there was "no doubt" the incident happened 30 nautical miles from the coast in international waters.

Italian authorities insist that the men should not be prosecuted in India as the tanker, the Enrica Lexie, was flying an Italian flag in international waters when the shooting occurred on Wednesday off southern India.

Italy's defence ministry has said the Indian fishing boat behaved aggressively and was repeatedly warned before shots were fired. It said the officers fired warning shots and the boat left "with no obvious damage."

But India has protested fiercely against the deaths of the unarmed men and said that the suspects must face justice in local courts.

(Agencies)