Troops flown in to fight Mafia

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ROME (Agencies) - Italy airlifted troops to Sicily yesterday to fight the Mafia, but the government assured Italians the move was not a prelude to the militarisation of the southern island. 'This is not a militarisation of Sicily. The job of public order is not being taken over by the military,' the Prime Minister, Giulio Amato, said.

Mr Amato's cabinet, galvanised by the car-bomb killing of top anti-Mafia judge Paolo Borsellino, mobilised 7,000 troops on Saturday to go to Sicily in the biggest use of the armed forces against organised crime in 40 years. 'This is not muscle-flexing or showmanship . . . this will guarantee greater control and security of the territory and multiply protection against organised crime,' said Claudio Martelli, the Justice Minister. Some officials and commentators criticised the move. 'This is not the best way to defeat the Mafia. The Mafia is a hidden power . . . we must increase the investigative potential of the state because the Mafia can strike whenever it wants,' said Aldo Rizzo, the Mayor of Palermo.

The soldiers, empowered to carry out searches without warrants, will defend strategic places which might be subject to attacks, such as airports, roads, courts and railway stations.

Meanwhile, the inquiry into the killing of Borsellino is pointing fingers at the Mafia of Agrigento which the judge had been investigating several months.