Rome: Asserting that he will "not abandon the ship or marines", an emotional Italian Defence Minister Giampaolo Di Paola ruled out his resignation like Foreign Minister Giulio Terzi and maintained that the marines returned back to India to face trial willingly.

Italian marines - Massimiliano Latorre and Salvatore Girone - were sent back to India on March 22 to be tried for allegedly killing two Indian fishermen, in a U-turn after Rome had said they would not return after being allowed to come home to vote.

The decision to hand them back, after a diplomatic tussle in which the Italian ambassador was blocked from leaving India, split the government. Foreign Minister Terzi had resigned earlier this week saying his view that the marines should not be sent back had not been listened to.

Di Paola criticised Terzi for quitting and said he would not abandon "the ship or the marines". The Italian Defence Minister was speaking at a ceremony in Naples honoring the 90th anniversary of the his country's air force when his voice cracked and his eyes watered up. He denied media reports here that the marines had been unwilling to return to India for trial.

Two Italian marines who were sent back to India to face homicide charges did so willingly, Di Paola was quoted as saying by Italian news agency ANSA. "It's not true that Salvatore and Massimiliano took five hours to agree with this decision. They were not just obeying orders, but also their sense of duty and responsibility. They honoured their word", he said.

"They respected their uniform in spite of their pain, pushing back their own emotions and those of their families", the Minister added. The Monti government returned Latorre and Girone after getting assurances they would not face the death penalty for allegedly shooting two Indian fishermen while guarding the oil tanker Enrica Lexie.

(Agencies)

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