Charges over 1980 Nato coverup

ROME : September 2 (South News) - A Nato dogfight in the skies over the Mediterranean probably caused the crash of an Italian commercial jetliner in 1980 that killed 81 people, an Italian judge wrote in his indictment Wednesday of four Italian generals.

Judge Rosario Priore, concluded that the plane, a DC-9 airliner of the now-defunct Itavia airlines, went down  on  June 27, 1980 in a ``war-like scenario'' over the southern island of Ustica, near Sicily. The plane crash occured during military activity in the area and that those indicted had tried to mislead investigators, according to accounts by the Italian news agency ANSA.

In his indictment, Priore said the nine, eight of them serving or past members of the military or the military secret services, should stand trial on charges including high treason and giving false testimony. But Priore, according to excerpts of the 5,468-page indictment carried by Italian media, said those who actually may have caused the crash remained unknown, so he could not charge anyone with the crime of massacre.

Priore, one of Italy's most respected judges and an expert on terrorism cases, wrote in his indictment that all radar evidence indicated the airliner was hit by a missile or plunged into the sea after swerving to avoid an accident.The  indictment gave credence to a much-discussed theory that a missile went astray during an attack by a U.S. jetfighter, or one from another NATO member, on a Libyan plane thought to be carrying Libyan leader Muammar Qadhafi.

Media reports based on radar monitoring data released in 1997 showed that fighter aircraft from several NATO countries were in the area on the night the plane went down. Those reports said one or two Libyan MiGs had tried to evade detection by flying close to the civilian airliner. A month after the crash, the wreckage of a Libyan jet was found in southern Italy.

The DC-9 ``absolutely was not alone, neither was the sky during its flight path totally empty for a range of 50 miles,'' Priore wrote in the long indictment.The judge concluded that the other aircraft near the plane must have been military, since no other civilian plane was flying that route at the time.

According to the judge, a military aircraft darted into the flight path of the DC-9 just as the jetliner was flying by. Priore theorized that the fighter might have tried to take cover from an attack by flying parallel to the commercial craft.

The indictment accused the generals of failing to inform the government and judicial authorities of the possibility that there had been military activity in the area where the plane crashed into the sea, killing all on board. The four air force generals ordered to stand trial were accused of abuse of office for allegedly making misleading and incomplete statements during several investigations into the disaster.

Daria Bonfietti, head of an association of families of victims of the crash, said Priore's report made it clear that ``with all probability, what had caused the plane to crash was an act of war.'' She accused Italy's NATO allies of failing to cooperate fully with past investigations and asked them to do so now. The Italian media have long suspected a military coverup of the tragedy.