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Over 1,200 migrants arrive in Lampedusa, Gaddafi blamed

Frattini says Libyan regime using 'criminal instrument'

13 May, 18:39
Over 1,200 migrants arrive in Lampedusa, Gaddafi blamed (ANSA) - Rome, May 13 - Italy accused besieged Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi of people-trafficking on Friday after around 1,200 migrants from North Africa arrived on the southern Italian island of Lampedusa on six different boats.

Foreign Minister Franco Frattini told Corriere della Sera's website that the migrant arrivals were a ''criminal instrument used by Gaddafi's regime'' against Italy for being part of an international alliance that is supporting Benghazi-based rebels.

Frattini said he expected the regime's alleged role in organising people-trafficking to be included in a dossier the International Criminal Court is preparing on Gaddafi. How deadly crossing the Channel of Sicily can be was highlighted by United Nations refugee agency UNHCR Friday, which estimated 1,200 people had died in the Mediterranean this year trying to flee conflict-hit Libya. Most of the around 30,000 people to have landed in Italy this year following unrest in North Africa have arrived in Lampedusa, a favourite destination as it is nearer to Tunisia than Italy.

At first the majority of them came from Tunisia.

But the flow from that country has been largely stemmed by an agreement Italy reached with the new government in Tunis offering aid and assistance in exchange for stiffer maritime checks and repatriations.

It is still not clear whether the six vessels that landed in Lampedusa on Friday included one that launched an SOS call in the night before all trace of it was lost.

NATO said it had rescued another boat carrying around 150 people that was in grave difficulty during the night near Tripoli. The migrant crisis has caused diplomatic friction between Italy and its European neighbours, especially France.

Italy has accused its European partners of not doing enough to help before angering them by issuing many of the migrants with temporary residence visas that enabled them to move freely within the 25-state Schengen area.

The tension has subsided after Italian Premier Silvio Berlusconi and French President Nicolas Sarkozy agreed at a bilateral summit this month to seek changes to the Schengen Treaty to allow for the ''temporary reinstatement'' of state borders in certain cases.

These changes were accepted at the European level.

But Italy still feels it has been largely left alone to handle the problem and Frattini and Interior Minister Roberto Maroni both called on the EU to do more Friday.

''A month ago Europe promised initiatives that still have not been adopted and refugees continue to arrive from Libya,'' Maroni said.