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Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 19 June 2018

Italy returns ambassador to Cairo, cites progress in student's murder probe

But the family of Giulio Regeni expressed anger at the government's decision

File photo from April 2016 showing Giulio and Paola Regeni, the parents of Giulio Regeni, an Italian graduate student who was tortured to death in Egypt. Massimo Percossi/ANSA via AP
File photo from April 2016 showing Giulio and Paola Regeni, the parents of Giulio Regeni, an Italian graduate student who was tortured to death in Egypt. Massimo Percossi/ANSA via AP

Italy will be returning its ambassador to Cairo, more than a year after recalling the previous one over the lack of progress into the murder investigations of an Italian student.

Foreign minister Angelino Alfano on Monday cited "developments" in Egypt's probe but the family of Giulio Regeni expressed anger at the government's decision.

Regeni disappeared in Cairo in January last year but his body was discovered 10 days later bearing marks of torture and mutilation.

"In the light of developments made in co-operation between Italian and Egyptian investigators … the government has decided to send ambassador Giampaolo Cantini to the Egyptian capital," Mr Alfano said on Monday, suggesting there were prospects for the truth to be revealed.

"The Italian government remains committed to shedding full light on the tragic disappearance of Giulio, by sending to Cairo an authoritative figure tasked with helping in seeking the truth," he added.

Egyptian investigators have suggested it could have been a botched crime, a personal vendetta and even a road accident — all of which have been dismissed by Rome which insists those responsible for the crime must be brought to justice.

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The Italian press and western diplomats in Egypt suspect members of Egyptian security services of having abducted Regeni, a 28-year-old Cambridge University doctoral student who had been researching trade unions and labour movements in the country.

An Italian autopsy showed that Regeni's body was covered with cuts and his bones were broken, indicating he had been hit with "fists, batons and hammers". A letter "X" was carved on his forehead and hand, according to the report cited by Italian media.

The incident fuelled diplomatic tensions between Italy and Egypt and on April last year, then-ambassador Maurizio Massari was recalled to Italy for consultations. Since then, Mr Massari has been assigned elsewhere, and the embassy in Cairo has awaited an ambassador.

Regeni disappeared on a day Cairo police were on a tense watch for protests on the fifth anniversary of the 2011 popular uprising.

But the Egyptian government has repeatedly denied its security services were involved and promised a "transparent investigation" to provide "the whole truth" about his disappearance and death.

Egypt is considered a key ally both in international efforts to combat Islamist terrorism and in efforts to stabilise neighbouring Libya, a base for human traffickers who have sent hundreds of thousands of migrants by sea toward Italy in the last few years.

Mr Alfano has dismissed any suggestion that Italy's desire to slow the flow of migrants across the Mediterranean Sea had triggered dispatching the ambassador to Cairo.

"That Egypt is an inescapable interlocutor on issues of primary importance for Italy, like the stabilisation of Libya and the fight against terrorism, doesn't signify that Italy intends to turn the page in the search for truth in Giulio Regeni's murder," the foreign minister said.

Regeni's family has been outspoken in demanding that Italy insist on getting the truth from Egypt. His mother has said her son's face was so badly pummelled that the only facial feature she could recognise was the tip of his nose.

"It's only when we know the truth about who killed Giulio and why, when his torturers and all their accomplices are handed over to us, alive, that the ambassador can return to Cairo without trampling on our dignity," the family said.

* reporting from Agence France-Presse and Associated Press