Sicily’s governor has halted the installation of a US military satellite communication system, demanding guarantees it isn’t a threat to people’s health. The decision, taken independently from Rome, comes after activists clashed with police.
The governor of the autonomous region, Rosario Crocetta, said more research has to be done on how the US operated Mobile User Objective System (MUOS) ground station, affects health and the environment.
The MOUS network, developed for the US Department of Defense, is aimed at providing the next-generation military communications system. When complete, it will consist of four ground stations around the world. One such station is being currently constructed in Sicily’s Sughereta Nature Reserve in Niscem, raising criticism from people there.
Locals are concerned about the possible increase in radiation levels caused by the electromagnetic waves emitted by the system. People fear that it may cause diseases such as cancer and leukemia. Activists insist that located within the Sughereta Nature Reserve, the satellite ground system also threats Sicily’s unique park with rare plants and cork forest.
Besides health and environment concerns, Crocetta’s ruling also raised questions on whether the station’s electromagnetic waves would impact air navigation, with the airport of Comiso (RG), just a few kilometers away.The airport is set to start operating in just a few months.
The construction of MUOS, an ultra-high frequency narrow-band satellite communication network, has been driving locals onto the streets for months now.
Since the construction began in July 2011, people of the small town of Niscemi, near which MUOS is to be eventually installed, have been embroiled in protest. They claim it was "illegally placed in the middle of a nature reserve”.
Friday night’s clashes were reported to be the culmination of months of peaceful protests; the violence is thought to have greatly influenced Crocetta’s decision.
Protesters from ‘NO MUOS’ movement, launched by activists, clashed with police forces 48 hours after the announcement of the works being resumed, months after Silicy’s public prosecutor’s office ordered a halt to operations.
Officers arrived at the scene to disperse demonstrators who blocked the US operated construction site, trying to prevent convoys laden with building materials from entering.
In October 2012 prosecutors ruled that the construction violates environmental legislation governing the nature reserve.
Crocetta said that before formally halting the construction of MOUS, he had met some American diplomats in the US embassy and warned them to act with caution.
“We would not want it to lead to clashes with local people. Besides that no study of the impact on the environment and human health has been conducted by Higher Institute of Health," an Italian newspaper Il Messaggero (The Messenger) quoted the governor of Sicily as saying.
In negotiations with the US he argued that the study was made by an engineering company, and “does not seem all that competent”.
“An engineering company can study the level of emissions but definitely not the impact on public health," he said.
"We are not against the Americans and are not against the MOUS. But we want all the guarantees for the protection of public health,” Crocetta told journalists explaining his ruling.
When asked if the decision was agreed by Prime Minister Mario Monti, the governor said that he “warned” Monti but did not ask “permission” from Rome.
"It would be disturbing if to suspend the work of the MUOS I had to ask permission from President Monti. I am a president of autonomy, do not ask certain permissions from the Monti government when I take my own decisions," the governor said.
The local Assembly approved Crocetta’s request for more research on the issue.
The US responded to the announcement, saying that Italy, as a member of NATO and an important partner for peace and security at the international level, as well as other members of the Alliance, will benefit from MUOS in support of NATO operations.
The MOUS construction site is located some 60 kilometers away from a US Naval Air Station in Sicily.
US activity near Niscemi, in Sicilia’s province of Caltanissetta, sparked the first protests back in 2009 after a project to build a military satellite dish became known to the public.