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U.S. soldier goes on trial in Italy for murder

ROME (Reuters) - A U.S. soldier goes on trial in Rome on Tuesday accused of killing an Italian intelligence agent in Iraq, but will be prosecuted in absentia because Washington has ruled out handing him over.

Mario Lozano, from the U.S. Army National Guard in New York, denies wrongdoing in firing at Nicola Calipari’s car when the agent was escorting a newly freed hostage to Baghdad airport in 2005. He says the driver ignored warnings to slow down or stop.

The U.S. and Italian governments said the shooting was an accident, but an Italian judge charged Lozano with voluntary homicide and two counts of attempted murder of others in the car.

His trial will take place at a courtroom inside Rome’s maximum security prison, Rebibbia, the largest in the Italian capital. Lozano will have a privately hired attorney to represent him, legal sources said.

The freed hostage, reporter Giuliana Sgrena, said the trial showed U.S. troops would be held accountable for their actions. She was wounded in the gunfire and is suing for damages.

“We have demonstrated we can break this immunity that normally American soldiers have guaranteed all over the world,” Sgrena told Reuters television.

ANGER

Lozano angered Sgrena and Calipari’s widow, Rosa, last week by defending the shooting in interviews with U.S. media. Italian outlets accused him of showing no remorse, but Lozano appeared teary eyed when speaking on television.

“If you hesitate, you come home in a box -- and I didn’t want to come home in a box. I did what any soldier would do in my position,” he was quoted as saying by the New York Post.

Rosa Calipari, elected to the Senate last year, criticized him for talking to the media instead of Italian magistrates.

“There’s a trial. He should come and make his statements at the trial,” she told Reuters.

The trial is one the biggest cases involving U.S. personnel in Italy since a low-flying U.S. Marines plane cut an Italian ski lift cable, killing 20 people in 1998. The United States later cleared the pilot of manslaughter.

The other major case testing U.S.-Italian relations is set to begin on June 8. Then, a Milan court will try in absentia 26 Americans, mostly CIA agents, charged with kidnapping a Muslim terrorist suspect in Milan in 2003 and flying him to Egypt.

The suspect says he was tortured by Egyptian authorities.

Foreign Minister Massimo D’Alema has said the two cases had “created some turbulence in our relations” but that Washington had more responsibility than Rome did to set things right.

Additional reporting by Antonio Denti in Rome

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