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NATO denies report of leaving African refugees to die at sea

IRNA - Islamic Republic News Agency

Berlin, May 9, IRNA -- NATO on Monday denied a British newspaper report which alleged that warships of the western military alliance involved in the Libyan mission had left 61 African refugees to die at sea after ignoring their calls to rescue their stranded boat.

Talking in Brussels, NATO deputy spokeswoman Carmen Romero rejected the report, saying 'any claims that a NATO aircraft carrier spotted and then ignored the vessel in distress are wrong.'

Dozens of African migrants were left to die in the Mediterranean after a number of European and Nato military units apparently ignored their cries for help, according to the British daily Guardian.

It wrote that a boat carrying 72 passengers - including several women, young children and political refugees - had drifted in open waters for 16 days after running out of fuel, 18 hours after setting off from Tripoli, on March 25.

The paper said that 'despite alarms being raised with the Italian coast guard and the boat making contact with a military helicopter and a NATO warship, no rescue effort was attempted.'

All but 11 of those on board died from thirst and hunger after their vessel was left to drift in open waters.

International maritime law compels all vessels, including military units, to answer distress calls from nearby boats and to offer help where possible.

Refugee rights campaigners have demanded an investigation into the deaths, while the UNHCR, the UN's refugee agency, has called for tighter cooperation among commercial and military vessels in the Mediterranean in a bid to save human lives.

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