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article imageItaly, Britain in diplomatic row after botched Boko Haram rescue

By JohnThomas Didymus     Mar 9, 2012 in World
Rome - Following the failed attempt by Britain to rescue a British and Italian held by a Boko Haram cell, a diplomatic row has erupted between Italy and Britain. Italian officials are angry they were not informed of the rescue plans until after it was launched.
Reuters reports President Giorgio Napolitano of Italy on Friday, condemned the British government for failing to inform the Italian government before launching the rescue mission in Sokoto, Nigeria, during which both the British and Italian hostages were killed.
Digital Journal reports that Chris McManus (British) and Franco Lamolinara (Italian) were kidnapped in Birnin Kebbi, northern Nigeria, by militants believed to be a faction of the Nigerian Boko Haram insurgents. The two were killed during an attempt by a joint team of special British and Nigerian forces to rescue them.
The Italian Prime Minister Mario Monti, said Italy was informed of the raid on the compound in Sokoto township of northwest Nigeria, only after it began. According to Daily Mail, Monti was "furious" that Britain had not informed Italy before launching the operation.
Napolitano, according to Reuters, issued a statement of condemnation of the British government. He said: "The behavior of the British government in not informing Italy is inexplicable. A political and diplomatic clarification is necessary."
A senior official in the former leader Silvio Berlusconi's party, Fabrizio Cicchitto, said: "Italy wasn't informed or asked its opinion about a blitz that put at mortal risk an Italian citizen. Between allies, this sort of mission is usually talked about beforehand. The British government bypassed and completely ignored us."
MPs from all the Italian parties are demanding to know why Britain did not consult Italy before the attack. Daily Mail reports Licia Ronzulli of the People of Freedom Party, former prime minister Silvio Berlusconi's party, said: "Let’s get this out into the open - Cameron cannot decide for Monti. Italy is a sovereign state and is a member of the European Union and should be considered as such: it is not a territory open for conquest or a colony. No-one can decide for us. The fact that the Italian government was not informed until the operation started is very serious: it is a against good sense, against procedure and against diplomacy between States. If this is how Italy is held then we do not count for anything."
Reuters reports the Italian media, while criticizing Britain for its unilateral action, said the incident reflected Italy's loss of international clout. Antonio Puri Purini, writing in Italy's biggest newspaper the Corriere della Sera, said: "The United Kingdom still acts, maybe unconsciously, with the nostalgia of imperial glory...First the tragic farce of Captain (Francesco) Schettino and then the arrest of the marines in Kochi. The Italian public has a right to feel humiliated."
Purini was referring to the case of two Italian marines arrested in India for shooting dead two fishermen in the Indian Ocean while on anti-piracy duty. Reuters notes that Italy's international prestige suffered during Berlusconi's sex and corruption scandals ridden administration.
The Italian Prime Minister called a meeting on Friday with senior ministers and representatives of the secret service. A parliamentary committee has said it will start a probe.
The British have admitted they did not inform their Italian counterparts until after the rescue operation had started. A spokesman of Downing Street, said: "When the prime minister [called the Italian prime minister] the operation had happened. We knew that the hostages were dead."
But the British, according to BBC, are trying to play down the incident. BBC reports Downing Street claims the British government had been in contact with the Italians ever since the men were kidnapped. Cameron said action had to be taken at very short notice: "A window of opportunity arose to try and secure their release. We also had reason to believe that their lives were under imminent and growing danger."
A spokesman of the British prime minister, said: "We contacted the Italians yesterday as the operation was getting under way, but this was a very fast-moving situation. Our priority was to respond to the situation on the ground and to do everything we could to try and secure the safe release of the hostages."
Richard Ottoway, chairman of Britain's Foreign Affairs select committee, said: "I don't think failure to make a phone call five minutes earlier will damage relations between Britain and Italy. I understand the frustrations of the Italians, but I don't think it is unreasonable because they are fast moving, sensitive operations and it's not always possible to keep politicians briefed in advance of what goes on."
Reuters reports the Italian prime minister Monti, spoke with the Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan on Thursday. The Italian prime minister demanded a "complete reconstruction" of what happened during the operation. BBC reports Nigerian forces constituted the bulk of the attacking unit. Contrary to the impression that the operation was led by special British forces, BBC reports Cameron said it was a Nigeria-led operation with UK only providing support through its elite Special Boat Service (SBS).
Eyewitness accounts of the raid
According to Reuters, Mahmoud Abubakar, a Nigerian resident in the neighbourhood in which the raid was carried out gave an account: "The security agencies tried to break into the house but there was resistance. The people inside the house were shooting at them and they returned fire. They exchanged fire for some time."
Another Nigerian, Murtala Naboro Tsafe, whose house is opposite the compound raided, said: "After all the gunfire, I saw soldiers bring out five dead bodies from the house. Two were white, three were black. .At about 6.30pm local time, before dark, soldiers marched three people out of the house who were still alive."
Digital Journal reports that the hostages, Chris McManus (British) and Franco Lamolinara (Italian), were taken captive in May. They were working on a bank construction project in Nigeria. McManus was working with a construction company, B. Stabilini.
UPDATE: Joint UK-Italian statement on the hostage rescue operation in Nigeria
The UK foreign office released a joint UK-Italian statement on the hostage rescue operation in Nigeria on Friday.
According BNO News, The UK Foreign Secretary William Hague and the Italian Foreign Minister Guilio Terzi di Sant'Agata, met early on Friday at a Foreign Ministers meeting in Copenhagen.
Hague stressed that the British government was unable to inform the Italian government before the operation got underway because there was only "limited opportunity to secure the release of the two hostages whose lives were in imminent and growing danger."
The Italian Foreign Minister expressed sorrow and disappointment over the tragic outcome of the operation and both minsters agreed that it was urgent for both countries to share full information to facilitate reconstruction of the events.
Both ministers conveyed solidarity and sympathy for the families of the hostages Chris McManus and Franco Lamolinara, and reaffirmed that the two countries will continue to work closely together in the fight against terrorism.
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