NEWS:Smugglers Throw Kids Overboard

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Jyothi Kanics---Global Survival Network (jkanics@igc.apc.org)
Mon, 12 Oct 1998 10:09:47 -0700 (PDT)


Saturday October 10 10:57 AM EDT

Smugglers Throw Kids Overboard

LECCE, Italy (AP) _ The crew of a raft carrying illegal immigrants from
Kosovo and Albania
threw refugee children into the Adriatic to try to avoid capture, Italian
authorities said Saturday.
Police dived into the sea to rescue all nine, including babies.

The drama was part of a chaotic exodus that brought more than 300 refugees
to southern Italy in
the past three days. Interior Minister Giorgio Napolitano decried the
episode on Saturday, saying it
was evidence of the ``total absence of scruples'' among criminals smuggling
the refugees for pay.

Italy is just across the Adriatic from Yugoslavia, where a government
offensive against ethnic
Albanian separatists in Kosovo has sent hundreds of refugees fleeing. Kosovo
is in southern
Serbia, one of Yugoslavia's two republics.

Overnight between Thursday and Friday, crew members of a rubber raft
carrying about 30
refugees started throwing children into the waves in their rush to unload
before being intercepted by
authorities from Lecce, a town on the heel of the Italian boot.

``The crew had pistols. They threw the children in the water because the
police from Lecce were
drawing near,'' one woman told state television RAI. ``They threw in a baby
of four months.''

One woman was thrown in the water still clinging to a boy's hand, while
other parents screamed.

``We almost couldn't believe our eyes. There was a moment we couldn't
move,'' said Giovanni
Saraceno, police captain in the town.

Authorities rescued the children and detained the entire group; doctors
examined the children
Saturday and found them in good health.

The roughly 30 refugees aboard the raft were among 274 refugees detained
Friday in the southern
region of Puglia, including some from Iraq. Saturday, authorities in the
southern port city of Bari
caught 28 Kosovo refugees.

The influx was a key issue of talks that ended Saturday in Trieste among
interior ministers of 16
European countries, Napolitano said.


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