Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Italy Invades Sweden!

But HEY! It was an honest mistake!

FOR most of the armies taking part, it was a routine exercise that involved little more than turning up at the right place.

For Italy's elite mountain infantry regiment, this proved too much. The 116 soldiers from the Alpini unit were due to arrive at Kristiansand in Norway on Saturday for a Nato exercise.

Nobody had consulted a map, however. Puzzled immigration officers at the airport of Kristianstad in Sweden watched as the troops, in their distinctive Alpine caps decorated with feathers, disembarked some 300 miles from where they should have been.

"It does not seem to have occurred to anyone in the unit that Sweden is not part of Nato," the Italian newspaper Corriere della Sera commented. "Kristiansand and Kristianstad may sound remarkably similar, but that is no excuse for Italy invading Sweden in error." Kristiansand is on the southern Norwegian coast, facing Denmark, while Kristianstad is in southern Sweden, not far from Malmo.

The incident comes at a particularly embarrassing time for the authorities, who are trying to counteract an "unfair and outdated" image of the Italian military as comically inept.

Defence Ministry officials said that the plane had been chartered from a civil airline. The flight had "not followed the usual military procedures". A spokesman for the airline said that as there was also a Kristiansund near Trondheim in central Norway, it was not surprising that the pilot had lost his bearings.

General Anselmo Donnari, the Italian military attaché in Oslo, said that the troops had eventually reached Norway "in good order", and the exercise had started as planned.

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