Rome says commander will stay

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The Independent Online
ROME - Italy yesterday refused to allow the United Nations to remove the commander of its contingent in Somalia, General Bruno Loi, who is at the centre of the dispute over the UN's peace-keeping mission, writes Patricia Clough.

It rejected the 'polemics' by the United Nations against the general as baseless and said his actions and those of his contingent had been 'gravely misrepresented'.

The statement by Fabio Fabbri, the Defence Minister, to MPs, came after tough talking by Italian ministers, furious at being told on television by Kofi Annan, UN Under-Secretary for peace-keeping operations, that they should withdraw Gen Loi.

It was an 'absolute refusal', Mr Fabbri said. The general 'acted on his original instructions from Rome'. Moreover, the choice of the commander of the Italian contingent was 'a matter of sovereignty of the Italian government . . . No complaints can be made about General Loi and our men.'

Mr Fabbri also denied suggestions that Gen Loi had had 'contacts and connivances' with the warlord Mohammed Farah Aideed. The government has repeatedly emphasised that the Italian contingent had negotiated with the elders of the area controlled by Gen Aideed, particularly when they succeeded in regaining control of Checkpoint Pasta without a shot being fired.

Beniamino Andreatta, the Foreign Minister, said Boutros Boutros- Ghali, the UN Secretary-General, had apologised yesterday for the 'unfortunate' announcement by Mr Annan that Gen Loi should go.