Diplomatic row over London failure to inform Rome on hostage rescue


A DIPLOMATIC row broke out between London and Rome yesterday over Britain’s failure to inform the Italian government before launching a botched hostage rescue mission in Nigeria.

Italian engineer Franco Lamolinara (47) was killed during a joint UK-Nigerian military raid that had been intended to release both him and his fellow hostage, Briton Chris McManus (28).

Both men had been kidnapped last May by the militant Islamic sect Boko Haram while working for a construction company in northwest Nigeria.

Many Italians feel the country was left out of the loop on the military action, in the town of Sokoto.

Speaking yesterday, President Giorgio Napolitano said Britain’s failure to inform Italy in advance of the operation was “inexplicable”. An Italian government spokesman was keen to play down talk of any diplomatic row with Britain, pointing out that both Downing Street and Mr Monti have given the same account of Thursday’s dramatic events.

The point is, however, that both accounts claim that Mr Monti was informed of the military action after it had happened and only when it was known that both hostages had died.

While British government sources argued the fast-moving nature of the delicate operation simply did not leave time for full and complete information to be supplied to Rome, many commentators saw the allegedly unilateral British action as a snub to Italy.

Daily Corriere Della Sera commented: “The United Kingdom, perhaps unconsciously, still behaves according to the logic of an imperial power, a logic which sees it act unilaterally in military interventions, with the exception of the US government, of course, to which it tells everything …”

The British ambassador in Rome visited the Italian foreign ministry “on his own accord” on Thursday night, a British foreign office spokeswoman said without giving further details. In Britain there were attempts to play down the spat. “I don’t think failure to make a phone call five minutes earlier will damage relations between Britain and Italy,” Richard Ottaway, chairman of Britain’s foreign affairs select committee, said. “I understand the frustrations of the Italians, but I don’t think it is unreasonable because they are fast-moving, sensitive operations and it’s not always possible to keep politicians briefed in advance of what goes on.”

A Downing Street spokesman said Britain had been in close contact with the Italian government since the kidnapping last May. Rome was contacted as the operation got under way. “The fact of the matter is things were moving quite quickly on the ground and we had to respond to that and our top priority was to maximise the chances of getting the hostages out.” Asked if Italian authorities had given prior approval to a rescue operation, he said: “When the prime minister phoned Mario Monti, the operation had happened. We knew that the hostages were dead.” – (Additional reporting: Reuters)