Two Italian Marines
Italian sailors Salvatore Girone (R) and Massimiliano Latorre leave the police commissioner office in the southern Indian city of Kochi on 18 January, 2013. Reuters

The two Italian marines at the centre of a diplomatic spat between Rome and New Delhi are returning to India to face trial for allegedly killing two local fishermen last February.

India's foreign ministry spokesperson Syed Akbaruddin said Massimiliano Latorre and Salvatore Gironi "are on their way back" to India, after the Italian government provided assurances of their imminent return.

Ministers in Rome had refused to send Latorre and Gironi back to India, after they were given permission to return home to vote in Italy's recent parliamentary elections.

The marines are accused of shooting dead two Indian fishermen off the coast of Kerala, while they were on board a private cargo ship.

In allowing the two marines to return home last month, the Indian government stipulated that they must be back in India by 22 March. Italian ambassador Daniele Mancini insisted that his country's government would comply with this demand.

Later, Italy went back on its commitment, saying that since the shooting incident happened in international waters, India had no right to try the marines. This prompted the supreme court to strip Mancini of his diplomatic immunity and bar him from leaving India.

'Their fundamental rights will be protected'

The Italian government said its decision to send back the marines followed a promise from the Indian government that the two would be safeguarded from mistreatment.

"The Italian government requested and received written assurances from the Indian authorities regarding the treatment of the marines and the protection of their fundamental rights," read an Italian government statement.

President Giorgio Napolitano assured the two marines that they would be "by their side in the path that awaits them".

Salman Khurshid, India's Foreign Minister, claimed a diplomatic victory, telling reporters that "diplomacy continues to work when everyone else thinks that everything is lost."

Khurshid also said that the marines would not be given the death penalty.