The Italian government has swung back to hard-line tactics in dealing with the extreme leftist Red Brigade urban terrorists after a brief and unsuccessful experiment in trying to bargain with them.
In one sense, the government has boxed itself in. But at least it has the consolation of knowing that in refusing to deal further with the terrorists, it has the support of both the opposition Communist Party and of the Socialists. The latter, from within the coalition Cabinet of Christian Democrat Prime Minister Arnaldo Forlani, had been the prime advocates of trying to bargain with the Red Brigades to secure release of their latest kidnap victim.
At issue is the life of Giovanni d'Urso, one of the country's key magistrates in the antiterrorist campaign. He has been held captive by the terrorists since Dec. 12.
Having made concessions to his captors in the vain hope they would free him, the government has now returned to a tough, unyielding line -- and reiterated this Jan. 5. The Red Brigades' response has ominous echoes of the messages they issued immediately preceding the murder in 1978 of their most famous hostage, former Prime Minister Aldo Moro.
The present government's dilemma over the course the d'Urso kidnapping has taken is all the more acute because the authorities had been relatively successful during the 1979 in their anti-Red Brigade operations in northern Italy. It was there -- particularly in Milan, Turin, Genoa, and Venice -- that terrorists had been most active and murderous during the latter part of the decade just ended. The Red Brigades are striking back now in Rome and southern Italy, apparently in an effort to make the point if the squeeze is on them in one part of Italy, they can pop up and kidnap or kill in another.
Complicating things for Prime Minister Forlani at the outset was the fact that Bettino Craxi, leader of the key Socialist movement in his coalition, advocated a soft-line toward Mr. d'Urso's captors. Back in 1978, the Socialists took a similar position, arguing that a conciliatory rather than an unyielding response to the late Aldo Moro's kidnappers would have saved his life. But the Red Brigades' negative response to Mr. Forlani's effort to bargain for Mr. d'Urso's freedom has forced the Socialists to switch to a hard-line position. Paradoxically, the Socialist President of the republic, the lively and blunt-speaking octogenarian Sandro Pertini, was from the start a hard-liner on how to react to the d'Urso kidnapping. He even insisted publicly that if he were ever kidnapped, he wanted no deal to secure his release.
Mr. d'Urso, who was unaccompanied at the time of his kidnapping, was seized on a Rome street near his home. His main responsibility was supervision of the movement of Red Brigade members in police custody from one maximum security prison to another. On Dec. 28, Mr. Forlani's Cabinet gave in (in effect) to an early demand of the terrorists in the vain expectation that Mr. d'Urso would be then be freed. That original demand, met by the government, was that orders be given for the closing of the maximum security prison on Asinara, an island off the coast of Sardinia, where many Red Brigade convicts are held.
To balance this, the government used force Dec. 29 to subdue a jail rebellion in the maximum security wing of a prison in the southeast Italian town of Trani, where other Red Brigade members are behind bars. Two days later, a group calling itself the Communist Fighting Unit, with suspected links to the Red Brigades, shot and killed Enrico Calvaligi, a top general of the Carabiniere (paramilitary police) in Rome.
Gen. Calvaligi, like Mr. d'Urso, was involved in the transfer of Red Brigade members in custody from one maximum security prison to another. This suggests that the Red Brigades may be working on getting out of jail the increasing number of their key men being locked away by the authorities.
Italian officials connected in any way with terrorists in maximum security prisons are reported to have asked the government for special protection. Apparently they believe that the Red Brigades may have wrung their names from Mr. d'Urso during his captivity. The Justice Ministry announced Jan. 5 that it would indeed buy 900 bulletproof cars for key officials and would spend $6.5 million on bulletproofing their offices.
Simultaneously, Justice Minister Adolfo Sarti made it clear the government was giving a flat "no" to the terrorists' latest bait. This was a suggestion from them that Mr. d'Urso could be freed if the government let Red Brigade members in jails in Trani and Palmi (in the heel and toe of Italy respectively) air their views on national television and radio.
Mr. Sarti said: "the government has the duty to declare that the sinister measures proposed by the terrorists have no possibility of being accepted."