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Italy offers air bases for Libya no-fly zone

Italy on Friday offered its air bases to third countries to impose a no-fly zone on Libya after the UN Security Council cleared the way for air strikes.

world Updated: Mar 19, 2011 01:04 IST

Italy on Friday offered its air bases to third countries to impose a no-fly zone on Libya after the UN Security Council cleared the way for air strikes.

Italy has "granted the use of military bases on its national territory," the government's press office said after an emergency cabinet meeting in Rome.

"The Americans and the British have already made requests for some bases," Defence Minister Ignazio La Russa told a meeting in parliament.

He added that the bases of Amendola, Gioia del Colle, Sigonella, Aviano, Trapani, Decimomannu and Pantelleria were available for operations.

The use of Italy's air bases is seen as crucial for any action because of its strategic location across the Mediterranean from northern Libya.

La Russa also said however that the use of Italy's own armed forces in any action against Libya would have to be authorised by parliament.

"Our opinion is to ask parliament to authorise the use of our armed forces... an authorisation to take part in a coalition," he said.

"Our assets are ready," he told the foreign affairs committee in parliament.

"We have a strong capacity to neutralise the radars" and air defences, he said, warning that a no-fly zone would be "a seriously demanding initiative."

He said Italy was "worried" because of its location and interests in Libya.

"There's no enthusiasm, there is concern. In all of this we have tried to pursue maximum prudence and moderation also because we know that we are closer and more vulnerable, with many interests," La Russa said.

Foreign Minister Franco Frattini meanwhile told the committee that Italy had shut down its embassy in Tripoli and had asked Turkey to handle its affairs.

"Our active participation including of course the use of our bases and not only has been set in motion," Frattini said.

Frattini said Italy had also sent a ship with humanitarian supplies to rebel-held Benghazi in eastern Libya that would arrive on Saturday.

"It will be a ship filled with humanitarian aid that has been requested by the National Council," he said.

Italy, Libya's former colonial ruler and top trade partner, has been diplomatically cautious since the start of the uprising last month and has emphasised the need for wide international agreement on a no-fly zone.

Italy and Libya are bound by a 2008 friendship treaty that officially forbids the use of air bases in Italy to bomb Libya but Frattini earlier declared that the document was "de facto suspended".

Libya earlier warned Italy against taking part in international action.

"Let's hope Italy keeps out of this initiative," Libyan Deputy Foreign Minister Khaled Kaaim told Italian news agency ANSA in Tripoli on Thursday.

"We are certain Italy has Libya's integrity and the protection of the population at heart. Let's hope that it doesn't consent to the use of its bases."