Reuters International

Italian sailors Salvatore Girone (R) and Massimiliano Latorre leave the police commissioner office in the southern Indian city of Kochi January 18, 2013.. REUTERS/Sivaram V

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NEW DELHI (Reuters) - India's Supreme Court on Thursday said an Italian marine under investigation for the killing of two fishermen is free to go home while international arbitration into the case goes on.

Salvatore Girone, who has been living in the Italian embassy in New Delhi, was one of two marines arrested in 2012 on suspicion of killing the fishermen during an anti-piracy mission on an Italian oil tanker. The other marine is already back in Italy after suffering health problems.

The Supreme Court ruled that Girone can return to Italy while an international tribunal decides on a jurisdictional issue between India and Italy.

The marine must surrender his passport when he arrives in Italy and will be required to return to India within a month of an order from the tribunal, the court said in its order.

Italy's foreign ministry said it was "satisfied" with the court's decision.

"Salvatore Girone will be able to return home in just a few days' time," the ministry said.

The dispute has strained relations between India and Italy and its European Union partners.

In an effort to end four years of legal wrangling, both countries last year agreed to move their dispute to the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague.

Italy argues that the case should not be heard in India because the incident occurred in international waters. India has said it remains confident the tribunal will decide in its favour.

(Reporting by Suchitra Mohanty; additional reporting by Steve Scherer in ROME; Writing by Tommy Wilkes; Editing by Douglas Busvine, Robert Birsel)

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