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Last Updated: Thursday, 27 January, 2005, 18:06 GMT
Italy to act on Somalia graves
A view of Suka Hola cemetery in Mogadishu, Somalia
Little is left in many cemeteries in bullet-scarred Mogadishu
Italy says it is considering bringing home the human remains unearthed when a colonial cemetery in Somalia's capital was desecrated.

Italy has described the destruction of the cemetery by militiamen as barbatic and Somalis have held protests.

Some 700 graves were destroyed and their contents dumped elsewhere.

Italy's ambassador to Somalia says the act, initially simply a bid to control the land, has become an attack on the authority of the Somali government.

On Sunday, the city's police chief, charged with overseeing an investigation into the seized cemetery, was shot dead.

Political attack

"Initially it was an opportunistic land seizure. Land in Mogadishu is going up in value by the day because the government is due to return soon," Francesco Lanata told the BBC News website from Nairobi.

It can be an act against the Somali government - showing it has no influence on Somali affairs
Francesco Lanata, Italian ambassador to Somalia

Somalia has not had a functioning national government since 1991 and rival militias have divided it into a patchwork of fiefdoms.

A new Somali government has been named and is due to start relocating to Mogadishu from Kenya on 1 February.

International outrage after the attack changed its significance, Mr Lanata said.

"They realised that, as well as being land on which they could build, it could be used for political and religious reasons," he said.

"It can be an act against the Somali government - showing it has no influence on Somali affairs."

Those who control the site say they are building a mosque there.

The BBC's correspondent in Somalia, Mohamed Olad Hassan, says construction is continuing on the land.

Symbolic shift

The militiamen are believed to be working under the orders of Islamic courts but the Muslim clerics have denied all involvement.

The chairman of the Somali Clerics Council, Sheik Nur Barood Gurhan, said that under Islamic law the militiamen could not construct a mosque without the permission of the land's owners.

"This is an Italian property. Nobody can build on it without the permission of Italy," he said.

Much of modern-day Somalia was under Italian colonial control until 1960 and many of the graves belong to Italian expatriates.

The remains of some 1,400 civilians were interred on the site of the Mogadishu graveyard.

"Many of the families feel this is an attack," Mr Lanata said.

"I will suggest a transfer of the bones or something symbolic such as earth from the cemetery," he said.


SEE ALSO:
Somali militias target cemetery
19 Jan 05 |  Africa
Country profile: Somalia
03 Dec 04 |  Country profiles


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