Italy left out of Bosnia talks

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The Independent Online
IN THE first public row between Italy and its European Union partners since the election of Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi this month, Rome has been refused a place at tomorrow's talks by the five- country 'contact group' that is attempting to bring peace to Bosnia.

Italy says it has 'a significant interest in Bosnia for geographical and military reasons' and wants a seat at the talks which resume today in Talloires in France.

'Our position is clear. Italy must be involved from the start in the decision making process. We cannot accept being left out,' the Foreign Minister Antonio Martino said in an interview in La Repubblica yesterday.

Italy would also be willing to send peace-keepers to Bosnia under certain conditions, including full involvement in decision-making, he said. It should also have a permanent seat on the United Nations Security Council, he added.

The right-wing coalition is trying to break the mould of the last 50 years of centre- right government by taking a high profile in international affairs, but its first attempts appear to have misfired.

There is also unease in the EU that the neo-Fascist members of Italy's government are reviving claims on territories in former Yugoslavia around Trieste, and that this will prompt Italy to put obstacles in the way of Slovenia's request for EU membership.

Slovenia was handed de facto status as a potential EU member yesterday when it became the only former Yugoslav republic to be invited to the EU's Conference on Stability in Europe which begins in Paris on Thursday.

The EU peace negotiator, Lord Owen, selected Britain, France and Germany as the contact group on Bosnia because of their large peace- keeping forces or in Germany's case, because it has leverage over the Croatian side. Russia and the United States are also members.