Sunday, March 13, 2005

Italy to stop paying ransoms - Sunday Times

Italy to stop paying ransoms - Sunday Times - Times Online

THE Italian prime minister, Silvio Berlusconi, has promised President George W Bush that he will not pay more ransoms to free hostages in Iraq.

The Italian government has denied newspaper reports that $6m (£3.1m) was paid for the release of Giuliana Sgrena, who worked for the Communist daily Il Manifesto. But senior officials and intelligence sources have confirmed that money did change hands.

The affair ended when American soldiers opened fire on the car carrying Sgrena and killed the intelligence officer who had freed her.

Last year Italy paid a reported $5m (£2.6m) for the freedom of two aid workers, Simona Pari and Simona Torretta. Hours after Sgrena was seized, Berlusconi announced that “negotiations” had begun.

The reports of ransom payments have infuriated American officials, who say they fund violence and encourage more kidnappings. Mel Sembler, the American ambassador in Rome, told Berlusconi last week that the money bankrolled “the war being waged by Sunnis in Iraq”.

In response, Berlusconi has agreed to a change in policy. When a speaker during a debate in parliament urged an end to ransom payments, he nodded and said: “Certainly, certainly.”

hat tip Michelle Malkin

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