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Frattini tour to 'root' of migrant problem

Seven-nation talks after violence in southern Italian town

11 January, 19:56
Frattini tour to 'root' of migrant problem

(ANSA) - Rome, January 11 - Foreign Minister Franco Frattini sets off Monday on a week-long tour of Africa that has taken on new meaning after Italy's worst racial unrest in years.

In a newspaper interview Monday, he said he meant to "get to the root" of the problem highlighted by riots and clashes in the Calabrian town of Rosarno after some locals attacked migrant labourers.

The seven-nation trip, Frattini told Rome daily Il Tempo, was part of Italy's efforts to "solve, at the roots, the problem of illegal immigration which has re-emerged in all its dramatic force in the tragic events in Rosarno".

"Italy has always been a tolerant and hospitable country which does not have the baggage of the great colonial powers in its DNA, but we have a duty, through our friendship and partnership with African countries, to...regulate to our mutual interest the phenomenon of immigration (and) to safeguard the welfare and safety of our citizens and of African citizens, whom we respect".

Some 53 people including 18 police were injured in the unrest at Rosarno, a part of southern Italy dominated by Italy's most powerful mafia, 'Ndrangheta.

At least one clan-linked man was among those arrested for the attacks, which broke out after immigrants torched cars and litter bins in response to an initial air-rifle shooting.

Hundreds of illegal migrants, mainly day labourers from sub-Saharan Africa, were bussed out to migrant centres at the weekend and their makeshift dwellings bulldozed while many legal immigrants left the area to escape further reprisals.

The government, which taken a hard line on illegal immigrants through its controversial 'push-back' policy on boats of migrants and asylum seekers, aims to move illegals out of other high-crime areas near Naples and in Sicily. Frattini told Il Tempo that Italy wanted the European Union to take a "more incisive role" in Africa.

"Europe, more than any other continent, is exposed to the dangers of systemic instability in Africa created by the threats of terrorism, illegal trafficking and global warming which, unless they are resolved, will increase the flows of economic migrants towards our continent".

Africa, he said, was "a central and complex challenge which we cannot afford to underestimate".

Italy has already helped Libya set up stiffer border controls, along with the EU's border agency FOREX, as part of an accord which allows it to return migrants caught in international waters to Tripoli - a policy decried by the Catholic Church and the United Nations.

During his trip, Frattini said he also means to "defend national interests, boost opportunities for Italian firms, and help the fight against terrorism and piracy".


On Friday a foreign ministry spokesman, Vincenzo Morabito, outlined the agenda.

Morabito, department chief at the ministry for sub-Saharan Africa, stressed that ''Africa is no longer just a continent of wars and other problems but also one of opportunity''.

Frattini's talks will range from bilateral relations to foreign aid, stabilizing areas of conflict like the Horn of Africa and the Middle East to economic investment opportunities, Morabito said.

Ample attention will obviously also be paid to the fate of two Italian national kidnapped December 19 in Mauritania by a group claiming to be Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), he added.

The first stop on Frattini's tour will be Mauritania on Monday where Italy is already involved in innovative development programs and cooperating with local authorities to combat illegal migration and drug trafficking.

Tuesday will see the foreign minister pay a brief visit to Mali before he heads to Ethiopia for talks the following day focusing on conflicts in the Horn of Africa, starting with the situation in neighboring Somalia.

Italy, Morabito recalled, is backing the provisional government in Somalia and its efforts toward national reconciliation ''which need to benefit from the international spotlight''.

On a bilateral level, talks will center on Ethiopia's desire to attract foreign investment.

Frattini on Thursday will be in Kenya, a country with a strong Italian presence, where talks will again centre on regional security with special emphasis on Somali piracy.

The foreign minister on Friday will be in Uganda to boost economic relations, especially in the field of agriculture.

On the same day Frattini will fly to Egypt for a two-day visit including talks on the Middle East with Amr Moussa, the secretary of the Arab League.

On January 16 and 17 Frattini will be in Tunisia where he will take part in ceremonies marking the 10th anniversary of the death former Italian premier Bettino Craxi, who died there in self-imposed exile to avoid prosecution in Italy on corruption charges.

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