An aviation tragedy that took place in June 1980 could now mean a new episode of diplomatic tensions between Italy and France. Former Italian Prime Minister Giuliano Amato, 85, yesterday again accused Paris of being behind the downing of a plane in 1980 with 81 people on board, without providing evidence, and called the matter an "act of war". "If it is not an act of war to fire a missile from one plane to another, how would you define it?", he assured in a press conference.
Amato, who was president of Italy's Council of Ministers twice, between 1992 and 1993 and between 2000 and 2001, caused a huge stir with an interview published on Saturday in L aRepubblica in which he blamed the tragedy of aviation a missile fired by a French fighter intended to kill then-Libyan leader Muammar al-Gaddafi, and said that, by mistake, it ended up shooting down the Italian civilian plane.
With these accusations, the former prime minister revives one of Italy's great mysteries. It all happened on June 27, 1980, more than 40 years ago, when a plane with 81 people on board, a Douglas DC-9 of the Italian airline Itavia, crashed in the Mediterranean near the Italian island of Ustica, in the Tyrrhenian Sea. The plane, which was on the route between Bologna and Palermo, stopped giving signals just seconds before nine o'clock at night, and all the passengers and crew members lost their lives, which shocked an Italy installed in lead years. Since then, multiple questions have been raised about the cause of the tragedy, since it went down due to a technical fault, that there was an explosive on the plane or that it was shot down by a missile. This is the thesis defended by Amato, who points out that the French air force was responsible, with the complicity of the Americans and "those who participated in the air war" in Italian skies. "The plan was to slaughter Gaddafi, who was flying in a MIG of his air force. And the plan was to simulate a NATO exercise, with many planes in action, during which a missile would be fired against the Libyan leader," he explained. However, he believes Gaddafi was warned of the danger and did not board the plane, and the French missile ended up hitting and bringing down the Itavia DC-9.
After the uproar, the Italian Prime Minister, Giorgia Meloni, asked the former Italian representative to make the elements available to the Government to make this statement. "Amato's words are important words that deserve attention", despite responding to "personal deductions", assured the leader of Brothers of Italy, and recalled that no document relating to the disaster is protected by State secrecy.
When asked about possible evidence to prove his theory, Amato replied yesterday that he has never said that he was telling the truth about Ustica, but that the most credible hypothesis of all that has been formulated is that of the French missile, and that if he is talking now it is because, given his age, he has come to the conclusion that it is one of the incomplete things that he can complete before he dies. "My aim was to provoke, if possible, an approach to the truth", he assured the headquarters of the correspondents in Rome.
The former Italian prime minister reiterated the appeal to the French president, Emmanuel Macron, to investigate the matter and ask for forgiveness, if it is proven that his thesis has foundation. "My appeal is as a friend. We are lucky to have as the president of France the freest Frenchman”, he argued, and said that Macron was a two-year-old child at the time of the disaster, and appealed to the opportunity to give young people a “ world in which truths are sought and not hidden".
French diplomacy has already responded to Amato and said that Paris "has provided the elements at its disposal every time it has been requested about this tragedy, particularly in the framework of the investigations led by Italian justice", and he added that "of course" they remain "willing to work with Italy, if it asks". It is not the first time that France has been accused of the Ustica tragedy. In 2008 the former president of the Republic Francesco Cossiga, who was prime minister during the disaster and died in 2010, assured that the culprit was a French missile aimed at a Libyan military plane.
"Other protagonists of the episode could also leave. The person who piloted a plane could say: 'I was in command of a plane that was among others around the DC-9 that night,'" insisted Amato.