Italy To Sue Paper on Taliban Bribe Report

Article Claims Italians Paid for Peace in Herat Too

"With the building of bridges, wells, schools and aiding agriculture. This zone, which was rural before the arrival of the Italians, has become a model to follow," McKiernan wrote.

The statement ends by denying that the U.S. Embassy in Rome sent a diplomatic protest to the Italian government in June 2008 about these alleged payments.

The article in the Times had stated that the alleged Surobi bribes weren't the only instance of Italians buying peace. The story claims that U.S. intelligence officials had been "flabbergasted" in 2008 when they found out through intercepted telephone conversations that the Italians had been buying off militants in Herat province in the far west of the country.

A U.S. Embassy spokesperson in Rome told ABC News that, as a matter of policy, "we don't discuss diplomatic conversations that may or may not have taken place."

Berlusconi won elections in April 2008 and replaced a center-left government headed by Romano Prodi. This is Berlusconi's fourth government since entering politics in January 1994.

The Italian paper Correiere della Sera today quotes La Russa as saying the Times "once again collects garbage." He says that he was made minister in the summer of 2008 and has never heard anything about Italian secret services paying the Taliban.

He argues that the Taliban's more benevolent behavior towards the Italians is not due to dollar payments but "due to the behavior of our soldiers, which is different to those of other contingents. This is open for all to see, as they have always shown a closeness to the local people and this closeness is mutual. To connect this with the death of the French soldiers, seems absurd to me."

To stress his point, the Italian minister is quoted as describing the situation in a valley west of Kabul, now controlled by Italians but previously controlled by the Turks. "I went to visit them the other day.. The Turks remained in their bunkers, while the Italians go out, they speak to the people and they are gaining trust of the locals."

The Times article quotes Haji Abdul Rahman, a tribal elder from Surobi, who recalls how the benign environment controlled by the Italian contingent became hostile overnight when the French took over. He said people believed that Italians and Taliban had good relations between them but he didn't know the reason.

NATO spokesman James Appathurai refused to comment on the report today. French military spokesman Christophe Prazuck told reporters today that "we have no elements which lead to the confirmation of what the Times is reporting today."

When asked on French TV news Channel 2 if it was a custom to pay for safety in Afghanistan, Prazuck replied: "It is not a French custom."

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