'Mammas' embarrass soldier sons

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AS YOUNG Italian soldiers patrol areas of Somalia and prepare to embark for Mozambique, hundreds of weeping mothers are inundating the Defence Ministry, newspapers and radio stations with phone calls, demanding that they be brought home.

'My son is extremely agitated. They told him Mozambique would be like a holiday, a jaunt - and well paid to boot,' one mother complained to the daily La Stampa. 'So he said yes. Then he heard what is really going on down there. Some jaunt. People are shooting]'

'To bear arms is a duty, OK?' protested another. 'But it is not a duty to get yourself shot, and get horrible diseases besides, in a foreign country.'

So far none of the 2,400 Italians with the United Nations forces in Somalia has been killed or injured, although they have come under fire several times. Now another 1,200 troops, mostly national servicemen (those in Somalia are predominantly professional) are preparing to go to Mozambique. The Defence Ministry has had to cope with 'Mamma protests' before but this one is odd, because service in Somalia and Mozambique - or so the Ministry insists - is entirely voluntary.

Salvo Ando, the Defence Minister, says most were keen to go, especially since they would earn dollars 120 ( pounds 78) a day; many near the end of national service had asked to stay on to take part. Those who refused 'could be counted on the fingers of one hand'.

One general told La Stampa he asked his men whether they would be prepared to go and was met with an awkward silence until one said: 'Sir, I'd go like a shot but my parents don't want me to. If you made it an order, we would have an alibi and they cannot object.'

With a hint of testiness, the Minister summed it up: 'Anyone who does not want to go does not go. I have great respect for the concerns of the mothers. But I have just as much respect for the right of our young soldiers to decide freely if they want to go or not. They are adults.'