Nearly 700 North African migrants arrive on Italian island

Two other boats with 200 migrants also spotted heading to Lampedusa island; migrants believed to be Libyan refugees fleeing unrest.

By REUTERS
June 11, 2011 12:55
2 minute read.
A migrant boat arrives in Lampedusa, April.

migrant boat arrives in italy_311 reuters. (photo credit: STRINGER Italy / Reuters)

 
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ROME - Three boats carrying nearly 700 migrants from North Africa arrived on the southern Italian island of Lampedusa overnight, officials said on Saturday.

The boats, which were believed to have left from Libya, carried a total of 667 migrants. Two other boats with a total of about 200 migrants were spotted some 20 miles away and were also heading towards the island, a coast guard official said.

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Thousands of people fleeing upheavals in North Africa have sailed to Italy on rickety boats in recent months, often creating an immigration crisis on the island situated halfway between Tunisia and Sicily.

Last month, eight high-ranking Libyan army officers appeared in Rome saying they were part of a group of as many as 120 military officials and soldiers who had defected from Muammar Gaddafi's government.

"What is happening to our people has frightened us," said one officer, who identified himself as General Oun Ali Oun.

"There is a lot of killing, genocide ... violence against women. No wise, rational person with the minimum of dignity can do what we saw with our eyes and what he asked us to do."

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Many migrants have risked their lives making their way to Italy. In April, a boat carrying refugees from Libya capsized south of Sicily, with coast guard officials and aid workers saying nearly 250 people were missing and at least 15 appeared to be dead.

Reports of the arrival of the new migrants on Saturday came after Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan said on Friday his country had offered a "guarantee" to Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi if he left Libya, but said Ankara had received no answer.

The Turkish prime minister's offer came as the United States and its NATO allies are stepping up military operations against Muammar Gaddafi, hoping for a final "squeeze" to drive him from power -- or possibly kill him -- a senior US official said on Friday.

The comments, made on condition of anonymity, follow days of some of the heaviest bombing of the three-month-old war and indicated a shift in Washington, which has previously spoken of a stalemate and has fought shy of making Gaddafi a target.

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