Italian government refuses to account for missing arms cache

The Italian government has officially blocked inquiries into the mysterious disappearance of a huge arms cache, amid suspicions the weaponry may have been secretly diverted to Libyan rebels.

The missiles, anti-tank rockets and Kalashnikovs stored by the Italian Navy on the island of Santo Stefano, off the Northern coast of Sardinia, vanished two months ago. But Sardinian prosecutors investigating the incident have been told by the Prime Minister's office that under state secrecy laws no information can be made available, Italian press reports said.

The weaponry, including 400 Fagot missiles, 30,000 AK-47 machine guns, 11,000 anti-tank rockets and 32 million rounds of machine-gun ammunition, was, according to Corriere della Sera, "enough to kit out an entire army". It had been seized by the Italian Navy from a vessel that was heading from one of the former Soviet states to Croatia during the Balkans conflict in 1994.

But interest is now focusing on the current whereabouts of the arms cache after its unexplained removal from Santo Stefano in May. A Turin court had ruled that the intercepted weapons were to be destroyed. Instead, it appears they were loaded on to army trucks and never seen again. Magistrates led by Riccardo Rossi, of the Sardinian town of Tempio Pausania, were reported to be investigating whether the arms had been diverted to Libya or Afghanistan.

As a formal colonial power, with lucrative business links to the Gaddafi regime, the Silvio Berlusconi's government was initially reluctant to become involved in Nato's military campaign in Libya. Italy finally agreed to aid the military mission at the end of April after a direct request to Mr Berlusconi from Barak Obama.

The arms cache is thought to have disappeared from Santo Stefano a few weeks later.

Italian opposition MPs, including the Democratic Party's Gian Piero Scanu and Giulio Calvisi, have tried but failed to obtain an explanation from ministers.

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