19 May 2007 04:18


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  • Date:  [16-Jun-2000 12:00:00 am]


BBC Monitoring Service - United Kingdom ; 16-Jun-2000 12:00:00 am

As efforts get under way to set up a UN peacekeeping force in the Horn of Africa, Italy, after having played an important role in negotiations leading to a cease-fire agreement, is expected to be placed in charge of the force. Three Italian warships are already in the region, Italy expects to provide logistical and monitoring support only. The following is the text of a report by Massimo A. Alberizzi headlined "Italian military in Eritrea 60 years later: six officers paving way for UN mission" by the Italian newspaper `Corriere della Sera' web site on 16th June

Asmara: Italian troops will be setting foot in Eritrea again after 60 years, not as colonisers this time, but to monitor the peace settlement between Asmara and Addis Ababa. After Eritrea, Ethiopia also stated its willingness on Wednesday [14th June] to sign the agreement - which provides for an immediate halt to hostilities - submitted to both sides by the president of the Organization of African Unity [OAU], Algeria's Abdelaziz Bouteflika. The signing ceremony is to take place on Sunday morning. The agreement provides for the deployment of a multinational peace force under the aegis of the United Nations.

Although weeks may elapse before the United Nations contingent is sent in, the major manoeuvres paving the way for the operation are already under way, albeit under a different official cover pending official orders from the United Nations and the OAU: rapid intervention in the event of European Union nationals requiring evacuation. This, indeed, is the official task of the six officers that Italy has sent in for reconnaissance, although, unofficially, they will do other things. Led by a diplomat, they were expected in Asmara last night. Their schedule will have them spending Saturday and Sunday on the coast, in the area between Massawa and Zula, to identify the place best suited to military landings. Italy has sent three warships: the helicopter carrier San Marco, the support ship Etna and the frigate Euro, with special forces on board. The three ships were dispatched over a month ago, precisely in case an evacuation of foreigners had to be organized, and have remained in the area.

The composition of the peace force is beginning to emerge in Western diplomatic circles in Eritrea. It will reportedly be made up of 2,000 troops bearing arms and 1,500 performing logistics, transport and communications duties. It would largely be stationed on Eritrean territory, in the 25-km wide demilitarized belt (which runs along the whole of the 1,000-km border). Its job would be to ensure the safety of 500 observers - sent to monitor the application of the cease-fire, the withdrawal of the Ethiopian troops and all the other aspects of the Algiers settlement - and of the Italian experts from the Military Cartography Institute in Florence, whose job it will be to establish where the legal borders between the two countries lie in accordance with the international treaties.

Italy's commitment in the mission is not expected to be demanding in terms of means and equipment, and is expected to go no further than logistics and monitoring work. Indeed, the bulk of the contingent is likely to be made up of troops from English-speaking African countries: South Africa, Egypt and Zambia are being mentioned. However, the United Nations might give Italy command of the operation. Whereas our men would be stationed largely in Eritrea, the French, who have confirmed that they have a number of warships lying off the former Italian colony as well (in spite of having a base in Djibouti), are expected to be deployed in Ethiopia. This is because we, for our part, are not greatly loved by Addis Ababa (which is accusing us of siding with Eritrea on account of the numerous pro-Asmara lobbies operating in our country), whereas the French are not in the Eritreans' good books, as the latter are laying claim to a slice of the territory of Djibouti, a country with close links to Paris.

It will be as well, nevertheless, to bear in mind the role that our country has already played in the matter. The combined efforts of [Italian Foreign Affairs Under Secretary] Senator Rino Serri, representing the European Union, and United States representative Tony Lake have imparted greater thrust to the work of the official mediator, Algeria's Ouyaya. "With the mediation over, we now have to take action in terms of reconstruction and development aid", Serri commented. "Peace is not enough to allow the two countries to get their breath back".

Source: `Corriere della Sera' web site, Milan, in Italian 16 Jun 00

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