Italian marines
Italian sailors Salvatore Girone (right) and Massimiliano Latorre Reuters

Even as the diplomatic row between New Delhi and Rome continues, an Italian military prosecutor on Wednesday questioned the two marines who refused to return to India to stand trial for the murder of two Indian fishermen last year.

The refusal of the Italy government to send back its two marines to India has outraged several political leaders who now demand strong action against Rome for the breach of trust.

Prosecutor Marco De Paolis opened an investigation into the two marines - Massimiliano Latorre and Salvatore Girone - for disobeying orders. The military charges may be transferred to Rome's regular criminal court where the two are under investigation for murder, reported ANSA news agency citing the prosecutor.

Italy had earlier challenged the decision of the Supreme Court to try the accused in India, claiming that since the incident took place in international waters the marines should be tried at home.

Wednesday's questioning "marks the beginning of the Italian jurisdiction over the case involving the two marines", a government source told Reuters.

Naval officers Massimiliano Latorre and Salvatore Girone were arrested for the alleged murder of two fishermen off the Kerala coast on 15 February last year. They were allowed to stay in Italy for a period of four weeks by the Supreme Court of India only on assurance by the Italian envoy that they would be sent back to India under the care, supervision and control of the Italian Republic after the completion of the stipulated time.

In an unexpected turnaround, Italy conveyed a message to India that it will not send back its marines to India for further trial, causing furore in India.

The Supreme Court ordered Italian ambassador Daniele Mancini not to leave India till the next hearing on 2 April, after Italy went back on its commitment to send back the two marines for further trial.

This move by the apex court forced the European Union (EU) to intervene in the matter. The EU criticised New Delhi of going against the 1961 Vienna Convention under which diplomats are given immunity.