Italy urges France to send back exiled left-wing terrorists

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The Independent Online

Incensed by the disappearance of Cesare Battisti, the convicted terrorist-turned-novelist from Paris last week, Italy says it will press France and Nicaragua to return 12 other convicted left-wing terrorists who evaded justice by living in exile.

Incensed by the disappearance of Cesare Battisti, the convicted terrorist-turned-novelist from Paris last week, Italy says it will press France and Nicaragua to return 12 other convicted left-wing terrorists who evaded justice by living in exile.

They include Alessio Casi-mirri, the only Red Brigades terrorist still at liberty who was involved in the kidnap and murder of the former Italian prime minister, Aldo Moro. He is in Nicaragua. The others are believed to be in France.

In 2002, France agreed to return Italians wanted for serious crimes, but none has been extradited. Battisti's disappearance was greeted by Italy's right-wing press yesterday as proof that France was not taking Italy's concerns seriously. The French daily Libération said he was no longer in France.

On Monday, the Italian Justice Minister, Roberto Castelli, said: "The flight of Battisti is the fault of the European left, which defends assassins and fugitives." Italy's centre-left coalition, the Olive Tree, immediately fired off an angry letter to the Prime Minister, Silvio Berlusconi, demanding an apology for Mr Castelli's statement.

The row over the fate of Battisti, who fled to France in 1990 and was convicted in absentia of murdering four people during his years as an ultra-left terrorist, shows how far the European Union has to travel before achieving the so-called "single judicial space", in which extradition from one member country to another is as automatic as, say, a transfer from Birmingham to Manchester.

France's late president, François Mitterrand, threw open the doors to left-wing Italian terrorists, veterans of Italy's so-called anni di piombo (years of lead) of the 1970s and 1980s, when Communist and neo-fascist groups traded many bloody atrocities. One of the reasons for what became known as the Mitterrand doctrine was that the left-wingers risked being tried under emergency laws Paris did not endorse. The Italians were allowed to remain in France indefinitely on condition they renounced violence.

Silvio Berlusconi's centre-right coalition has made the return of Battisti and others to face new trials a point of principle in its war with the left, and a question of national honour in Italy's relations with France.

James Walston, professor of political science at the American University in Rome, said: "The row brings back a lot of nasty tastes from the years of lead. It's an excuse for the centre-right to say, 'Look at these lefties; they're still Communists'. It's a way of smearing the left, saying the left associates with terrorists.

"If someone has been convicted, they are criminals and they should pay some price. This was 20 years ago, and there should be acceptance of what happened. Unfortunately, in Italy, there isn't even acceptance of what happened in the Second World War."

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