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Wednesday, September 15, 2010     GET REAL

'Error' in communications? Libya opens fire on Italian fishing boat

LONDON — Italy's ambitious security cooperation has been marred by a Libyan Navy attack.


Italy has acknowledged that a Libyan Navy patrol boat fired on an Italian fishing boat in the western Mediterranean. The patrol boat was one of six donated by Italy to the North African state in an effort to enhance the war against illegal migration to the West.

"What happened the other day is something that should not have happened and Libya has apologized," Italian Interior Minister Roberto Maroni said. "Apparently there was an error of interpretation."

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Officials said the Libyan attack took place on Sept. 12, Middle East Newsline reported. They said the Libyan patrol ship opened automatic fire on the Sicilian fishing boat about 50 kilometers off the coast of Libya.

In 2009, Italy donated six naval patrol boats to Libya as part of military and security cooperation between Rome and Tripoli. Italy has also sought to become a major military supplier to Libya, a former colony.

Officials acknowledged that security cooperation between Italy and Libya has been painstaking. They cited interoperability, language and political difficulties as well as Libya's reluctance to be seen as the policeman of the western Mediterranean.

Libya has been criticized for its denial of human rights to detained illegal migrants. Officials said Italy has urged Libya not to use live fire to intercept boats suspected of containing illegal migrants to Europe.

"Perhaps they mistook the fishing boat for a boat with illegal migrants," Maroni said on Sept. 14. "It was a serious incident, but just an incident nevertheless."

In the latest incident, none of the Italian fishermen were wounded. Ship captain Gaspare Marrone recalled heavy Libyan gunfire that struck gas cannisters on board.

"It could have been a massacre, but luckily we got away," Marrone told the Italian daily Corriere della Sera.

Italy's opposition has criticized the government of Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi for the relationship with Libya. In August 2010, Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi arrived in Italy and urged young women to convert to Islam.

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