Italian minister calls for Libyan ceasefire


ITALIAN FOREIGN minister Franco Frattini has again appeared to highlight strains within Nato’s mission in Libya when he called for a suspension of military hostilities in order to allow the distribution of humanitarian aid.

Almost immediately, both France and Britain expressed opposition to any such cessation of bombing, arguing that a ceasefire would give the Gadafy regime time to regroup and reorganise.

On Monday, at an EU foreign ministers’ meeting in Luxembourg, Mr Frattini had suggested that in light of the civilian casualties caused by Nato bombing raids, Nato was in danger of losing both its credibility and the propaganda war against Libyan leader Col Muammar Gadafy.

In an address to the lower house of parliament yesterday, Mr Frattini repeated his message, saying: “An immediate cessation of hostilities is necessary in order to create humanitarian corridors . . . it is also fair to ask for more detailed information on results as well as a clear and precise position on the dramatic errors affecting civilians.”

Last weekend, Nato admitted that due to “weapon malfunction”, it had mistakenly destroyed a civilian house in Tripoli.

The Gadafy regime claimed that nine civilians had been killed in that incident.

It further alleged that another 15 civilians, including three children, had been killed in another Nato raid on Monday, near Sorman, 70km west of Tripoli.

Yesterday morning, Libyan television claimed that “dozens” of people had been killed by shelling from Nato ships in the western town of Zlitan, where rebel fighters have been trying to advance.

That report could not be confirmed as foreign journalists are banned from Zlitan.

However, what is certain is that both Italian public opinion and the government coalition partner, the Northern League, are becoming increasingly uneasy about the Nato campaign in Libya.

Italy, one of eight Nato countries involved in the air strikes, has made seven military bases available to Nato, while Italian Tornado jets have also taken part in operations.

Northern League leader Umberto Bossi has called for a reduction in Italy’s international missions as a way of making money available to reduce tax levels.

Mr Frattini’s comments, however, provoked a negative response from both Britain and France.

French foreign ministry spokesman Bernard Valero said: “At their meeting in Abu Dhabi two weeks ago, the coalition and the contact group countries were unanimous in their agreement on the strategy to follow: you have to increase the pressure on Gadafy . . .

“Any pause in military operations would allow Gadafy time to reorganise himself and in the end the civilian population would suffer from our sign of weakness.”

Further Italian unease about the Nato mission in Libya was expressed yesterday by defence minister Ignazio La Russo, who called for an intensification of “political and diplomatic action”.

Like Mr Frattini, he has ruled out any unilateral Italian withdrawal, saying: “The basic principle is, together in, together out.”