Italy says would consider Libya no-fly zone request

ROME Mon Feb 28, 2011 1:04pm EST

ROME (Reuters) - Italy would look at allowing bases in the Mediterranean to be used by allies if there were a United Nations-backed deal to enforce a no-fly zone over Libya, Foreign Minister Franco Frattini said on Monday.

"If and when the Security Council members took the decision, then we would consider it," Frattini told Reuters in an interview, but added that there was so far no agreement over deploying international military force.

"Italian bases are the only ones that could be used as they are the closest to Libya. But we are not at that point yet," Frattini told Reuters by phone from Geneva where he is attending a meeting of the U.N. Human Rights Council.

"We think a no-fly zone is a useful measure but there is no consensus among members of the Security Council over its enforcement, which would require the use of war planes," he said. He said that several countries felt that for now, such a measure was premature.

British Prime Minister David Cameron said on Monday Britain would work with allies on preparations for a no-fly zone to protect its people from military attacks by Muammar Gaddafi's government..

However, NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen distanced himself from talk of an imminent implementation of a no-fly zone, saying the focus should be on measures already adopted by the Security Council to isolate Gaddafi's government.

Italy has already allowed Western allies to use its Sigonella base in Sicily for humanitarian flights and to evacuate nationals stranded in its former North African colony.

NON-AGGRESSION PACT "NO LONGER APPLICABLE"

Rome, formerly Libya's closest ally in Europe, signed a friendship and co-operation treaty with Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi Tripoli in 2008 that included a $5 billion reparation deal for colonial misdeeds.

The treaty includes a non-aggression clause that would have barred the use of Italy's military bases for any action in Libya and commits both countries not to resort to threatening or using violence against each other.

But Frattini said the breakdown of central control in Libya as rebel forces have come close to the capital Tripoli meant that the treaty could no longer be considered to be in force.

"It is no longer applicable because there is no longer an interlocutor," he said. "So we are not tied down anymore, otherwise we would not have made the Sigonella base available."

Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi's government had initially hesitated to condemn violence in Libya, a former Italian colony with which Rome has close business ties.

Berlusconi, who rolled out the red carpet for Gaddafi on several visits to Rome over the past two years, drew fire from the opposition last week for saying he did not want to "disturb" the Libyan leader in the middle of the revolt.

However, Italy has gradually raised its voice in recent days. In the clearest indication yet that Rome no longer stood by Gaddafi, Frattini said at the weekend the end of Gaddafi's rule was inevitable.

Libya supplies around 25 percent of Rome's oil needs and 12 percent of its gas imports. Its sovereign wealth fund has stakes in Italy's biggest bank UniCredit and other companies, and Italy's oil and gas major ENI is the biggest operator in Libya.

Gaddafi was also instrumental in helping Italy stop illegal immigrants trying to reach its shores, and Rome now fears a mass exodus of up to 300,000 people fleeing the violence.

(Editing by Myra MacDonald)

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