An international court has decided that an Italian marine held in India on suspicion of murder can return home while a decision on his trial is pending, the Foreign Ministry in Rome said on Monday.
Salvatore Girone was arrested along with another marine, Massimiliano Latorre, in February 2012 on suspicion of fatally shooting two Indian fishermen while serving anti-piracy duties on an Italian tanker passing through the Indian Ocean.
The Permanent Court of Arbitration (PCA) in The Hague has decided that Girone can return to Italy until a jurisdiction row between Rome and New Delhi over the affair is settled, the Italian ministry, known as the Farnesina, said in a statement.
The conditions for Girone's repatriation must still be agreed upon with India, the Farnesina said.
Prime Minister Matteo Renzi hailed the "extraordinary news" in a press conference in Florence with Japanese counterpart Shinzo Abe and said he had already spoken to Girone.
Renzi stressed that he wanted to work with India to fully resolve the controversy, which has soured relations between Rome and New Delhi.
"I want to send a message of friendship and cooperation to the great Indian people and to Prime Minister [Narendra] Modi, we are always ready to cooperate and work together," he said.
In New Delhi, sources in the Indian government issued a clarification on the matter, saying the Italian foreign office was "misrepresenting" the decision to make it seem as if the UN court had ordered the release of Girone.
"The order neither releases nor frees any marine. It only recommends further relaxation of bail conditions for Girone to be considred and decided by the Supreme Court of India," the source said.
The official said the order "clearly recognized that the Supreme Court exercises jurisdiction" over Girone and Italy, and India should approach the court which could consider his return while applying strict conditions.
Girone is currently on bail and living inside the Italian embassy in New Delhi, while Latorre was granted several renewable permits by Indian courts to stay in Italy to recover from a stroke he suffered in September 2014.
The Farnesina said Girone could potentially have been forced to stay in New Delhi for another "two or three years," the time necessary for the United Nations' International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea (ITLOS) to review the case.
The UN court, based in Hamburg, has to decide whether the marines should be tried in Italy, because the shooting incident took place in international waters, or on India, on the grounds that it happened in waters within its jurisdiction.