By Alvise Armellini
ROME (Reuters) - French President Emmanuel Macron must say whether his country was to blame for an Italian air disaster that killed 81 people more than 40 years ago, former Italian Prime Minister Giuliano Amato said on Tuesday.
Italian judges have said in the past that a missile likely downed the DC-9 civilian aircraft near the island of Ustica on June 27, 1980, but have been unable to identify who was responsible for one of the darkest mysteries in Italy's postwar history.
In a weekend interview with La Repubblica newspaper, Amato said he believed that the aircraft, belonging to the now-defunct domestic airline Itavia, was probably shot down accidentally by a French jet during a botched attempt by France, the U.S. and NATO to kill the then-Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi while he was flying over Italy.
"I ask Macron to look into the matter. If he shows that the allegation is unfounded, so much the better. If it is true, he should apologise," Amato, 85, told a news conference on Tuesday.
A French diplomatic source told Reuters that France had always cooperated with Italy on Ustica, particularly in the context of judicial investigations, and was "of course ready" to work again with Rome if asked.
Amato, who twice served as prime minister, said he had raised the issue again because at his age: "You start to ask yourself if there is something useful still to be done, some unfinished business that can be resolved."
He said it would be easier for Macron to respond as he was aged only two at the time of the tragedy and belongs to a different generation from the French political and military elites that may have been to blame.
Amato said he had not spoken to Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni in recent days. Meloni said at the weekend that Amato should show any new evidence he had to support his theory.
The former premier, a socialist politician who has also held various ministerial posts and led Italy's Constitutional Court, has conceded he has no new evidence or hard proof.
Former Italian President Francesco Cossiga, who was prime minister when the plane crashed into the sea killing all on board, made similar accusations in 2008. He died two years later.
(Reporting by Alvise Armellini, additional reporting by Michel Rose in Paris and Keith Weir, editing by Nick Macfie)