UN dismisses Italian general in Somalia: Rome responds with fury to 'ultimatum' from New York to send home commander and redeploy troops outside Mogadishu

Click to follow
The Independent Online
ITALY last night reacted with horror at what Beniamino Andreatta, the Foreign Minister, called the ultimatum-like demand by the United Nations to bring home General Bruno Loi, the commander of Italian peace- keeping troops in Somalia, and to move the 2,600-strong Italian contingent out of Mogadishu.

'I am appalled,' Mr Andreatta said after learning of the move from journalists. He objected to the way the announcement had been made 'in the tones of an ultimatum and in public'. It confirmed the Italian view that the UN operations in Somalia lacked co- ordination and transparency.

Kofi Annan, UN Under-Secretary- General for peace-keeping, told reporters in New York the Italian forces would be redeployed outside Mogadishu and Gen Loi would return home. He refused to describe Gen Loi's transfer as a firing, saying he preferred to think of it as a rotation.

The news of Mr Annan's press conference reached Rome as Mr Andreatta he was briefing the joint foreign affairs committees of the Chamber and the Senate on the government's decision to demand a thorough clarification of UN strategy in Somalia. The Italian government immediately ordered a top diplomat, Maurizio Moreno, and the army's deputy chief of staff, General Mario Buschemi, to go to Mogadishu and report back.

Mr Andreatta said afterwards that in a telephone conversation with the UN Secretary-General, Boutros Boutros-Ghali, 'the desire emerged that General Loi should anticipate his return home, which was scheduled for the last weeks in August. We agreed there should be a sufficient period of time for the Italian government to examine the situation.'

Mr Annan 'had not waited for a reply from the Italian authorities', he said. This demonstrated 'that the points I have made about the need to establish principles and methods do not appear to have been grasped by UN officials'.

'Naturally,' he said, 'the Italian government is perfectly in agreement with the position of General Loi on some points. On others we will have to examine accusations which have never been explained to me.'

The news caused a storm of protest in Italy. In parliament, extreme left- wing and neo-Fascist MPs demanded that the government report immediately to the house. Mirko Tremaglia, a neo-Fascist, said Italy should threaten to leave the United Nations. Left- wing parties demanded that the Italian contingent be brought home.

Sources in the Prime Minister's office said that the 'serious differences' over strategy in Somalia 'do not concern the personal position of the commander of our contingent'. Italy absolutely respected the 'essential role' of the United Nations but insisted on the need to examine the political and military basis on which its peace mission should be carried out.

In Mogadishu, Gen Loi was quoted by the Italian news agency Ansa as saying 'my conscience is perfectly clear. I have respected both the spirit and the letter of the UN resolutions. The mandate I was given when I left Italy with my men was for a humanitarian mission and I have kept to this.' He said he had received no information about his recall or the transfer of his troops.