Italy weeps for soldiers killed in Somalia: Rome funeral for UN soldiers prompts call for tougher view of military role

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The Independent Online
THE ITALIAN state and weeping citizens bade a solemn farewell to the three soldiers killed in Somalia last week as the country discovered a new and tougher attitude to military involvement.

Later government ministers reiterated in parliament the government's determination - firmly supported in the press - to carry on with its peace-keeping mission in Somalia, but demanded that Italy should have a role in the United Nations forces' command there and participate in deciding peace-keeping strategy.

The Foreign Minister, Beniamino Andreatta, announced that a consultation mechanism had been agreed on with the United States, which would involve the seven principal countries involved in peace-keeping in Somalia. The first meeting would be in New York on Thursday, he said.

He also insisted that a negotiated political solution must be sought in Somalia, without which any military operation would risk either being completely ineffective or being condemned to continue indefinitely.

President Oscar Luigi Scalfaro, representatives of the state and government, thousands of ordinary Romans and a large group of expatriate Somalis packed into the marble and gilt basilica of St Mary of the Angels for the moving funeral ceremony for the soldiers, the first Italians to be killed in ground combat since the Second World War.

The three soldiers serving with the United Nations - Pasquale Baccaro, 21, Stefano Paolicchi, 30 and Andrea Millevoi, 21 - were killed and 21 others were wounded on Friday when they were ambushed by gunmen in the Somali capital, Mogadishu.

'Their names are now included among those of so many UN forces who have died around the world in the name of peace,' Bishop Giovanni Marra, Italy's national military chaplain, said in his homily during the nationally televised service.

'We have to ask: 'Why did they go to Somalia? Why were they killed?' ' he said before blessing the flag-draped coffins flanked by military guards.

At the same time it was dawning on Italians that their image of themselves as friendly, likeable soldiers who fraternise with local populations and thus avoid the grislier aspects of war was largely a myth.

'Another conviction died in Mogadishu: that our contingents . . . are 'different' and with the weapons of good nature, canniness and human warmth can obtain what others try in vain to achieve with brutality and force,' said a commentator in La Stampa. This 'narcissistic myth' only led to 'silly illusions'.

The mass media must 'demytholo gise the cliches about the 'niceness' of Italian soldiers and make public opinion understand that sometimes one has to have the courage to make enemies and fight them,' said the Corriere della Sera newspaper on Sunday. 'Only if our soldiers have such an evolution in national culture behind them will it be right to go on making them risk their lives.'

'In war we are no better or worse than anyone else,' said the historian Arrigo Petacco, recalling Italy's grim wartime in the Balkans and colonial history in Somalia. And the commentator Marcello Pera, in La Stampa, said the Mogadishu tragedy was one of the things that is changing Italy.

'On one black Friday Italy became aware that its army, too, is an instrument of war and death and that this purpose can be tragic and repugnant but is sometimes necessary and therefore has to be achieved with efficient and professional means.

'When before have we seen a prime minister and foreign minister demanding more operational power on a military issue and not simply calling for less risk? . . . Has it ever happened before that even the pacifists remained silent? . . . And could one ever imagine that Italians would accept the idea of no longer being those who 'do it better' - as those T-shirts claim about our supposed amorous abilities - but soldiers targeted with the demand 'Yankees go home'?'

Until now Italy did not have a political class, a foreign policy or a defence policy on a level with its position as a leading economic power, he concluded: 'now it is learning.'