Italy mourns its peace-keepers: Left-wing parties call for withdrawal from Somalia after deaths of three soldiers

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The Independent Online
ROME (AP) - A bride in wedding dress left her bouquet of white roses on a flag-covered coffin yesterday as thousands of citizens braved the heat to pay their respects to three Italian soldiers killed in Somalia.

The soldiers, members of the UN peace-keeping mission in the former Italian colony, were killed on Friday in an ambush after searching for arms in Mogadishu. Their deaths prompted the government to renew its request to the United Nations for Italy to join the mission command, which includes the United States. Carlo Ciampi, the Prime Minister, is expected to press the issue in a meeting with President Bill Clinton during the Group of Seven summit in Tokyo this week, although the ultimate decision rests with the UN.

The deaths of the troops - the first Italian soldiers to die in ground combat since the Second World War - along with the wounding of more than 20 Italians in the ambush, have encouraged some left-wing parties to renew their objections to Italy's participation in the mission. However, the government says the Italians are staying.

Some citizens have also called for an Italian pull-out, or at least for guarantees on security. 'It's useless, it's not just,' said Fiorella Dionisi, the bride. She and the groom, Fabio Ponsilli, an air force officer, had just been married in a church near the military hospital where the three coffins were on display.

By late afternoon, about 10,000 people had filed past the coffins. Many had waited hours on a very humid, hot sunny day for their turn. The Pope, making his usual Sunday appearance in St Peter's Square, prayed that in 'that tormented country the bloody clashes end and that finally a peaceful and orderly coexistence be established'.

'At first there were just women and children and we couldn't react' to the attack, said Lieutenant Alessandro Scano, one of the wounded who was interviewed on television.

The Vatican newspaper, L'Osservatore Romano, criticised the handling of the UN mission, contending that orders for the UN troops 'do not seem to be given by the United Nations but by the American command'.

Italian officials, including General Bruno Loi, leading the Italian contingent in Somalia, believe the UN mission would be more effective if the Italians joined the command. They say Italy, because of its past African involvement, has a good understanding of local politics and can handle sticky situations better.