AP NEWS
Related topics

Town Looking Ahead To Destruction of Missiles

December 2, 1987

COMISO, Sicily (AP) _ Residents of this Sicilian town that hosts 112 nuclear-tipped cruise missiles say they will welcome a return to obscurity promised by the U.S.-Soviet arms agreement.

″It is good not only for us because it takes death off our backs but because it is good for all humanity. It is the first big step toward total disarmament,″ said Mayor Rosario La Perna.

And while cab drivers and waiters have learned a little English in the past few years to deal with the American military personnel, local officials say a hoped-for economic bonanza from their presence never materialized.

The town in southeastern Sicily is planning several low-key events to mark the signing of the arms treaty in Washington next week by President Reagan and Soviet leader Mikhail S. Gorbachev.

They include the awarding of the first ″Comiso Peace Prize″ to the two superpowers, and diplomats from each country have been invited to the ceremony Dec. 8. There was no immediate word on whether they would attend.

Since the first cruise missiles were deployed in 1984 at a former Italian air base as part of NATO’s response to a Soviet missile buildup, the mainly agricultural community has been a center of anti-missile demonstrations.

Peace groups have set up offices, although townspeople didn’t participate much in the protests that drew demonstrators from a number of West European countries.

″The people here are very conservative,″ said La Perna, a Socialist. ″They traditionally accept the decisions taken by the central government.″

Italy was the first of the United States’ European allies to accept the deployment in 1979. Italian officials recently confirmed that all 112 missiles are in place at the base three miles from the central Piazza Fonte Diana.

The missiles would be destroyed under the terms of the accord to eliminate medium- and shorter-range nuclear weapons.

According to Mario De Luca, a 53-year-old farmer, most of the 29,000 Comiso residents are indifferent about the departure of the Americans.

″We are happy with the elimination of the missiles but it is of small importance if the Americans leave tomorrow or in three years,″ he said.

La Perna said American soldiers ″did not influence our economy because they buy their things at the base.″ He said there are about 2,000 American servicemen, who use the base commissary, school and theater.

The town is now debating what to do with the base once the missiles are gone.

Girolano Piparo, a representative of the local pacifist movement, said there are proposals to transform the base into a university or a post-graduate study center for Third World students.

There has also been talk of creating a ″peace park.″