- The Washington Times - Thursday, May 25, 2006

ROME — Italy’s new center-left government will accelerate planned closure of a U.S. nuclear submarine base on the northern coast of the island of Sardinia amid fears nearby residents suffer higher-than-average cancer rates, Defense Minister Arturo Parisi said.

Mr. Parisi, sworn in last week in Prime Minister Romano Prodi’s Cabinet, said he would meet the left-wing regional president of Sardinia, Renato Soru, to plan the departure of the 3,000 U.S. Navy personnel at the NATO submarine base of La Maddalena and the adjoining support base on the isle of Santo Stefano.

“We will see each other immediately about the Sardinian military bases,” said Mr. Parisi, who was elected to a Sardinian constituency in April’s general election that ousted Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi.

U.S. Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld announced Nov. 23 that the submarine base will close so that the nuclear-class vessels can be transferred to other strategic areas of the Mediterranean.

No official date was set then for winding down the longstanding facility, however, Italian defense sources at the time said the closure would happen by the end of this year.

Mr. Parisi said Wednesday he would honor a pledge to speed up the base closure in response to a report published April 21 by Sardinia’s regional health department.

Sardinians living near La Maddalena suffered “significantly excessive numbers of deaths and hospitalization for lymphatic” tumors “more than 178 percent higher than the regional average,” La Repubblica newspaper quoted the report saying.

Environmentalists also want Italy to close the several Italian bases on the island, many of them live-fire areas chosen because of the low density of population living in rugged parts of Sardinia.

In all nearly 100,000 acres of land are fenced off as restricted areas in Sardinia, more than any other Italian region, and “too much with one of the highest tourist potential of the nation,” commented La Repubblica.

Also in the sights of the minister is a NATO base at Capo Teulada in southern Sardinia from, where the alliance has staged war games since 1965, and an experimental live fire practice base at Perdasdefogu-Salto di Quirra managed jointly by the Italian army and navy.

“I committed myself during the election campaign to ensure Sardinia received proper attention and I have not forgotten that,” Mr Parisi said.


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