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NATO could help protect sea routes: secretary-general

BRUSSELS, May 2, 2006 (AFP) - NATO Secretary-General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer suggested the organisation's ships could safeguard fuel tanker routes, in proposals to the European parliament's foreign affairs commission on Tuesday.

"NATO could play a good role to ensure the security of sea lanes," he told the commission: "You could imagine NATO naval forces playing a role to protect LNG (liquefied natural gas) tankers" from terrorist threats.

Scheffer also mentioned the problem of maritime piracy.

But he ruled out the possibility of NATO protecting pipelines and other energy infrastructures on member countries' soil, saying that was a matter for nation-states.

NATO ships are already present in the Mediterranean as part of an anti-terrorist operation launched after the September 11 2001 attacks on the United States.

The US general James Jones, commander in chief of NATO's forces in Europe, has also spoken of the possibility of protecting gas tankers around the Horn of Africa.

However, the debate has only just been opened and no high-level decision has been taken within NATO, an official from the alliance said on Tuesday.
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