* Dispute over killing of fishermen escalates
* Charged Italian marines failed to return to India
* India top court barred Italian envoy from leaving country
BRUSSELS, March 19 (Reuters) - India would be breaking
international law if it stops Italy's ambassador from leaving
the country in a dispute over two Italian marines charged with
killing two Indian fishermen, the European Union said on
The statement was the bloc's most forceful intervention yet
in the festering dispute over the marines which has soured
relations between India and EU member Italy.
India's top court last week temporarily barred the envoy,
Daniele Mancini, from leaving after Rome refused to send the
marines back to India to face trial following a home visit.
The marines Massimiliano Latorre and Salvatore Girone, part
of a security team protecting a tanker from pirates, are accused
of shooting the two Indian fishermen off the coast of Kerala in
February last year.
EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton noted the Indian
court's ruling about the ambassador "with concern", Ashton's
Ashton regarded the 1961 Vienna Convention, which sets rules
for diplomatic relations, as a cornerstone of the international
legal order that should be respected at all times, he said in a
"Any limitations to the freedom of movement of the
ambassador of Italy to India would be contrary to the
international obligations established under this convention," he
"(Ashton) continues to hope that a mutually acceptable
solution can be found through dialogue and in respect of
international rules and encourages the parties to explore all
avenues to that effect," the statement said.
The EU statement echoed comments by Italy's Foreign Ministry
on Monday that the Indian court's decision violated diplomatic
India's Supreme Court had allowed the marines to go home for
four weeks to vote in last month's parliamentary election,
provided they returned.
They have not done so, and Italy's Foreign Ministry said the
incident had become a formal dispute over U.N. laws.
India's Supreme Court said in a long-awaited ruling in
January that India had jurisdiction to try the marines, but
Italy has challenged that decision, arguing that the shooting
took place in international waters.
Italy's announcement that the sailors would not return
caused an uproar in India' parliament and Prime Minister
Manmohan Singh's government is under pressure to respond
(Reporting by Adrian Croft; Editing by Andrew Heavens)