Austria deploys tanks at border, Italy calls envoy

Italy to get solidarity says Juncker. EU calls for NGO conduct code

04 July, 20:27

    An Austrian soldier watches the border for illegally entering migrants between Hungary and Austria, Sept. 20, 2016. An Austrian soldier watches the border for illegally entering migrants between Hungary and Austria, Sept. 20, 2016.

    (By Denis Greenan).

    ROME - Austria deployed tanks against possible migrant incursions on its border with Italy Tuesday prompting Rome to summon the Austrian ambassador to clarify matters.

    Meanwhile European Commissioner Jean-Claude Juncker said Italy would have European solidarity "in deeds and not just words" - and the EC said in a new migrant action plan for Italy, which allotted 35 million euros and called for a new coordination centre in Libya, that Rome should draft a code of conduct for NGO ships rescuing asylum seekers off Libya. The Italian foreign ministry summoned the Austrian ambassador after Vienna said it was ready to deploy up to 750 troops at its border at the Brenner Pass "very soon" unless the flow of migrants from Italy diminishes. "I think that border controls will be activated very soon and an army deployment will be necessary," Austrian Defence Minister Hans Peter Doskozil was quoted as saying by the Kronen Zeitung newspaper Tuesday. He added that the measure will be "indispensable if the flow of migrants from Italy does not diminish". Austrian Foreign Minister Sebastian Kurz then defended the plan. "Our preparations for controls at the border with Italy are not only just, but also necessary," Kurz said. "We are preparing to defend our border at the Brenner if that is necessary".

    Four Austrian military Pandur armoured vehicles have reportedly been taken to the Brenner Pass and they could be used in the migration control operations announced as possible by Doskozil. Austrian news agency APA reported the measures, including the deployment of the 750 troops, could be activated within three days. The Italian foreign ministry in Rome said in a statement that the Austrian Ambassador to Rome, René Pollitzer, had been summoned on Tuesday morning by the ministry's Secretary General, Ambassador Elisabetta Belloni, "following the declarations of the Austrian government about the deployment of the troops at the Brenner".

    Both Foreign Minister Angelino Alfano and Interior Minister Marco Minniti said the Austrian initiative was completely unjustified.

    Alfano said "with Austria we are seeing last year's film: they were talking about walls but then we saw that no migrants passed through: there is no justification for this attitude. No one passes through the Brenner".

    Italy should prepare a code of conduct for NGO ships carrying out search and rescue operations in the central Mediterranean, the EC said in its action plan to ease migratory pressure on Rome. The plan should be drafted in consultation with the EC, and on the basis of dialogue with the NGOs, it said. Italy has said it will instruct NGO rescue ships not to enter Libyan territorial waters. It has also mooted barring non-Italian NGO ships from Italian ports, a threat that will be a key issue at an informal meeting of EU interior ministers in Tallinn on Thursday and Friday. France and Spain have already said they will not open their ports to such ships.

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