Gaddafi planned to turn Italian island into migrant hell

ROME - Muammar Gaddafi planned to swamp the tiny Italian island of Lampedusa with African migrants as revenge for Rome’s part in the coalition against his regime, Italy’s foreign minister said Friday.

“Italy has proof of orders given by Colonel Gaddafi to turn Lampedusa into hell,” Foreign Minister Franco Frattini said in an interview with the Catholic newspaper, Avvenire.

“There is proof Gaddafi gave the order to send thousands of desperate people on boats, in order to throw the island into chaos,” he said.

Italy has always suspected the Libyan leader of using illegal immigration as as weapon to put pressure on Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi’s government.

Thousands of refugees, for the most part from Sub-Saharan Africa, have arrived from Libya on Lampedusa over the past few months.

The arrivals follow those of tens of thousands of Tunisians who fled following that country’s uprising, causing severe overcrowding and dire sanitary conditions and leaving Italy open to heavy criticism from the European Union and aid agencies.

According to the Interior Minister Roberto Maroni, over 48,000 immigrants and refugees from Tunisia and Libya had arrived on Lampedusa since the start of the year.

The Libyan ambassador in Italy, Hafez Gaddour, told Rai radio that Gaddafi controlled illegal immigration “in person, saying that he wanted to turn Lampedusa black with Africans,” to punish Italy for its role in NATO operations.