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Thursday, May 27, 1999 Published at 22:36 GMT 23:36 UK

Too close for comfort

Tourism and fishing have suffered since unexploded Nato bombs were discovered

By David Willey in Rome

Swimmers on an Italian Adriatic beach this week noticed a suspicious cylindrical object washed up on the sand. Army artificers quickly identified it as an unexploded Nato missile and they took it away to a lonely area 20km away to detonate it.

Kosovo: Special Report
The explosion lit up the night sky and could be heard all along the coast.

Meanwhile, the fishermen of Venice have tied up their trawlers in the picturesque port of Chioggia for at least another three weeks after three of them were injured after trawling up an unexploded cluster bomb in their nets.

Trawling for unexploded bombs

The government has agreed to a $40m compensation package for the fishing industry which has seen its catches reduced by up to 70% by the war.

Traditional fishing grounds off the Yugoslav coast have been declared out of bounds while Nato war planes have been dumping unexploded ordnance into the sea in five different designated areas in international waters in the Adriatic Sea.

Apparently, no one in Nato bothered to tell the Italians what was happening and there have been some very terse exchanges between the Palazzo Chigi, Italy's Downing Street, and Nato headquarters in Brussels.

The upshot is that a permanent Nato minesweeper taskforce has been activated to search for unexploded weapons in the Adriatic Sea, the long and narrow watery barrier separating the holiday crowds on Italy's sandy beaches from the hostilities taking place on the other side of the water.

A suffering tourist industry

[ image: Prime Minister Massimo D'Alema supports Nato bombing]
Prime Minister Massimo D'Alema supports Nato bombing
But what holiday crowds?

With the schools shortly due to break up for the summer, tourist operators are wringing their hands. Holiday bookings, both domestic and from abroad have plummeted for resorts along the thousand miles of Italy's golden Adriatic sands.

In Puglia, in the heel of Italy, the shortest sea route to Albania and Montenegro, this year's summer tourist season has already been written off.

I met a travel agent in Bari whose desk was covered with messages announcing cancellations from Germany and Japan.

If ordinary Italians are lukewarm about supporting the air war, they are even less enthusiastic about supporting a ground action to enable the refugees from Kosovo to return home.

No taste for a fight

Italy has an army made up predominantly of conscripts, and the idea that young men from Milan and Rome and Palermo could be asked to be prepared to sacrifice their lives in yet another Balkan war at the close of the millennium does not go down well here.

There are 2,000 Italian soldiers, including some conscript volunteers, doing humanitarian and peacekeeping work in Macedonia and Albania, but they - and above all their mothers - have no taste for a fight.

A strong streak of pacifism coupled with old-fashioned leftwing anti-Americanism runs through Italian politics today.

Partly this is due to the stand of the Vatican which preaches the uselessness and immorality of war as a means of settling disputes and has an enormous influence in this still overwhelmingly Catholic country.

Traditional anti-American attitudes of the Communist left also die hard in this country - now for the first time since the fall of Fascism being run by former Communists.

In support of Nato bombing

[ image: Refugees are arriving in Italy's southern ports]
Refugees are arriving in Italy's southern ports
The new generation of the left who voted Massimo D'Alema into office have grown up seeing their fathers and grandfathers carry banners reading 'Yankee go home' and 'Down with Nato'.

As it has turned out Mr D'Alema has been unexpectedly steadfast in his support of Nato bombing - there is no question of Italy withdrawing its key facilities.

The hardline Italian Communists inside the present coalition have publicly ranted and railed against the bombing of Serbia and sent friendly delegations to meet with President Milosevic all to no apparent effect on Italy's basic loyalty to Nato.

However, Italy does remain the only country taking part in the bombing whose embassy in Belgrade is still up and running and whose ambassador is still en poste.

Economic boom

The 8,000 American servicemen who work at the Aviano airbase keeping up round the clock air attacks on targets inside Yugoslavia have been subjected to pinprick attacks such as the odd burning of private cars with Nato number plates.

But by and large the local economic boom generated by the base outweighs political protest by the militant minority in northeast Italy.

In the background looms the problem of the refugees from Kosovo. Italian policy has so far been to provide as much aid as possible to keep them in the Balkans, not to let them cross the Adriatic sea into Italy.

But this week has seen a new breach in fortress Europe.

Hundreds of Kosovans have been arriving in southern Italian ports on ordinary ferry services from Albania carrying false passports which they purchased from the local Albanian Mafia. Once they arrive in Italy they claim political asylum knowing full well that no one is going to repatriate them.

One of the unexpected side effects of ethnic cleansing is proving to be bigger than ever profits for international organised crime.

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