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Frattini reports on jailed aid workers

Italy 'dissatisfied' with Afghan response so far

14 April, 16:39
Frattini reports on jailed aid workers (ANSA) - Rome, April 14 - Italy is not "satisfied" with the answers it has been given so far by Afghan authorities in regard to the arrest of three Italian aid workers, Italian Foreign Minister Franco Frattini said on Wednesday.

The minister made his remarks in a report to the House on the arrest of a surgeon, a nurse and a logistical technician working for the Emergency medical charity for their alleged involvement in a plot to assassinate a local Afghan governor.

On Wednesday, Frattini told the MPs, Afghan President Hamid Karzai was handed a letter from Italian Premier Silvio Berlusconi, along with a personal message from the Italian foreign minister, asking for "urgent and concrete" details of the case.

"Premier Berlusconi and I made it clear to Afghan authorities that as a friendly nation Italy expects all rights to be respected, including that of presumed innocence". According to Frattini, Italy "has the right to answers, above all in regard to determining the truth" and will move according to two basic principles; "safeguarding our co-nationals and helping a nation to which we are linked through friendship and are trying to help stabilise".

"We have proposed the creation of a joint Italo-Afghan panel to ascertain the facts and this proposal has been accepted by the Afghan foreign ministry," Frattini told MPs.

The three members of war-zone medical NGO Emergency were arrested after bombs were found in their hospital in the war-torn Helmand province.

Afghan authorities say the three and six Afghans at the hospital were part of a plot to blow up Helmand Governor Goulab Mangal.

In his report to the House, Frattini confirmed that the three stand accused of weapons possession and of drawing up a "two-phase" plan which involved "inviting the Helmand governor to the hospital, where a suicide bomber would have killed him".

According to the foreign minister, the three - surgeon Marco Garatti, 40, nurse Matteo Dell'Aira, 30, and logistical technician Matteo Pagani Bonaiuti, 28 - are still in Helmand, southern Afghanistan, but may be transferred to the capital Kabul next week.

Italy's ambassador to Afghanistan, Claudio Glaentzer, was able to visit the three on Sunday in Helmand and found them "in good health, even if emotionally drained by the situation," Frattini said He added that one of the three "could be released soon, if no other evidence surfaces".

Frattini added that five other Emergency staff at the Lashkar Gah hospital, who have since been moved to Kabul, "may soon be able to leave Afghanistan.

In his appearance before the House, Frattini denied press report that British forces took part in the raid on the Lashkar Gah hospital. Emergency chief Gino Strada claims the three were framed to stop the NGO revealing the scale of the civilian toll in the Afghan war.

"It is my sincere hope, and I believe also in Italy's national interest, that our co-nationals be proven to be totally innocent of the charges which have been made against them. Not only is it in Italy's interest, but obviously also that of the organization they work for," Frattini said.

photo: Franco Frattini

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