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Last Updated: Thursday, 13 May, 2004, 15:34 GMT 16:34 UK
Italy general backs abuse claims
Inmates at Abu Ghraib jail, Baghdad
Italian forces are not accused of carrying out abuses
The commander of Italian troops in Iraq says his superiors were told that US-trained Iraqi police abused prisoners.

Basra-based Maj Gen Francesco Spagnuolo's comments to La Repubblica newspaper contradict his government's line on the allegations.

On Wednesday in parliament, the Italian defence minister denied all knowledge of the abuse of prisoners in Iraq.

But the general's account reinforces allegations by a former colonel and the widow of an Italian soldier.

Maj Gen Spagnuolo told the newspaper that complaints were made to the relevant Iraqi authorities about what was taking place at the jail, near the city of Nasiriya.

what went on in the small penitentiary 40 km from Al-Nasiriyah was well known
Maj Gen Francesco Spagnuolo
He said his superiors in Rome were also kept informed every day.

"Our contingent did not know anything about the torture and the violence to which the Iraqi prisoners were being subjected in the jails of which the coalition forces were in charge," he said.

"But what went on in the small penitentiary 40km (25 miles) from Nasiriya was well known."

He said details of what was happening was sent to the Iraqi authorities and the information was passed on to Rome "by the usual channels".

The general said Colonel Carmelo Burgio, who spoke to the Italian media earlier this week, had told him that "the Iraqi police officers' conduct was a violation of the most basic standards regarding the detainees' rights".

He said the Italian contingent had even engaged in a firefight with the Iraqi police when they went to release a few detainees who had been subjected to terrible torture.

Storm

Giuseppina Longo, the widow of Italian officer Massimiliano Bruno, who was killed in Iraq in November, told the Italian media that her husband described how inmates at one prison were beaten and treated worse than cockroaches.

However, Italian Defence Minister Antonio Martino told parliament on Wednesday he was surprised by claims that Italian forces in Iraq knew prisoners were being abused.

The publication of photographs apparently showing abuse and torture of Iraqi prisoners by US and UK forces has caused a political storm.

Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, meeting US President George Bush next week, expressed revulsion at maltreatment documented in a leaked report by the International Committee of the Red Cross.

But he has said that Italy's 3,000-strong troops will remain in Iraq despite the kidnapping of four Italian civilians, one of whom has been murdered by a group demanding their withdrawal.




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