February 15, 2011 / 7:08 PM / 9 years ago

UPDATE 1-Tunisia and Italy agree on moves to stem migration

* Italy to provide technical aid to Tunisia

* Frattini sees progress in Tunisian efforts

(Adds Frattini comments from parliament, EU aid offer)

TUNIS, Feb 15 (Reuters) - Tunisia and Italy have agreed several steps to work together to counter illegal migration after more than 5,000 migrants landed on the small Italian island of Lampedusa in the past few days.

According to EU estimates some 5,500 Tunisians have reached Italy in recent days, escaping the turmoil surrounding the overthrow of President Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali on Jan. 14.

Tunisia’s official TAP agency said the agreement was reached in talks late on Monday between visiting Italian Foreign Minister Franco Frattini and Tunisian interim Prime Minister Mohamed Ghannouchi.

Italy and Tunisia had agreed on a cooperation framework that “respects Tunisia’s sovereignty” to counter illegal immigration.

Italian Foreign Minister Franco Frattini said on Tuesday that Italy would provide Tunisian military forces with technical aid and equipment.

Frattini said in parliament that Italy was also prepared to support a Frontex border control mission in international waters but said the chief responsibility for intercepting migrants lay with Tunisian authorities.

He said he would discuss the issue at EU ministerial meetings in coming days.

The European Union offered Italy money and other assistance on Tuesday to cope with the flood of migrants trying to reach EU shores, but it put no figure on the funds offered. [ID:nLDE71E2A3]

Frattini noted progress in Tunisian efforts to block the migrants on Tuesday.

“Already today there has been an intensified monitoring of Tunisian ports with some boats full of migrants blocked on their way to Italy,” the news agency ANSA quoted him as saying.

He said Italy had already agreed to donate 18 million euros to Tunisia to help tackle the country’s economic crisis, which is seen as fuelling what Rome has described as a “biblical exodus” from Tunisia.

The flow of illegal migrants had caused a diplomatic row, with Tunisia accusing Rome of infringing its sovereignty after Interior Minister Roberto Maroni suggested sending police to Tunisia to stem the flow of people arriving on Lampedusa.

Since Ben Ali’s departure, Tunisia’s interim government has been making faltering steps towards stability, but police have melted away in many places, and strikes and protests have disrupted the economy. (Writing by Souhail Karam and Catherine Hornby; Editing Jon Hemming)

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