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Wednesday, March 10, 1999 Published at 19:36 GMT

World: Americas

Italy raises stakes over ski tragedy

All 20 passengers in the cable car were killed

Italy will ask for a review of the accords governing relations between Nato countries if no one is punished for last year's ski cable car tragedy.

Italy has been protesting since a US marine court martial acquitted Captain Richard Ashby of involuntary manslaughter.

His EA-6B Prowler jet cut through the cable wires of a ski lift in the Italian Alps in February 1998, killing all 20 passengers.

[ image: Prime Minister D'Alema: Expects pilot's superiors to take responsibility]
Prime Minister D'Alema: Expects pilot's superiors to take responsibility
Italian Prime Minister Massimo D'Alema told the Italian Parliament that he expects Mr Ashby's superiors to be held responsible for the tragedy.

"If these responsibilities are not determined ... it will be necessary to suspend and review the 1951 accords between Nato countries," Mr D'Alema said.

Italian politicians have demanded a review of base arrangements, some have even called for the US bases to be closed. But Mr D'Alema insisted that Nato bases were necessary for Italy's national security.

"The real problem is not to eliminate the bases, but to better define their roles," he said.

Pilot blames Italy

Earlier, the acquitted Captain Ashby said the Italian aviation system was partly responsible for the deaths.

In an interview on Italian television, he said "a lot of mistakes" had been made by the Italian aviation authorities and other organisations which had denied any wrong-doing.

"I do not think one person can be responsible for the tragedy", he said.

The Italian Defence Minister, Massimo Brutti, said the pilot's comments were "out of place and arrogant".

"The captain is still undergoing a criminal trial on charges of having obstructed justice. He would do well to be more discreet," Mr Brutti said referring to charges relating to the disappearance of a flight video made by Captain Ashby's navigator.

In the trial, Captain Ashby's defence team argued that the cable car system did not appear on any military maps available to the pilots.

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