Speaking to Sky News on Monday, Malta’s Foreign Minister Evarist Bartolo stated that his country will not be used as a base against any other country. Bartolo stressed that the solution to the Libyan crisis must be “Libyan-led”, and praised Egypt’s role in preserving the stability of the region.
Bartolo explained the importance of Libya to Malta, especially given its geographical proximity, saying: “We are very close to Libya. The journey takes 40 minutes between Malta and Tripoli, so it is in our interest that Libya lives in peace and prosperity.” For the Minister, the difficult circumstances the Libyans are living in, call for an urgent solution. “Libyans are going through very difficult times, not only because of the conflict, but they have neither electricity nor water, in addition to the high prices of essential commodities, and the weakening of the dinar,” Bartolo explained.
Bartolo said that the best way to assist Libyans was to “bring the warring parties together for dialogue”, noting at the same time that the matter was not easy: “I know that this is complex because they have fought frequently, and there is a lack of trust between them. We have to restore trust between them so that the people of the east can speak to the people of the west, and also with the people of the south. It is important that they talk to each other, so that the flow of oil returns to everyone, because they need to obtain their basic needs, especially in light of the outbreak of the Coronavirus in the country, which has made life more complicated.”
He also pointed out that Libya’s neighbours “are not involved in the conflict there”, saying, “I look at Egypt, Malta, Tunisia, and Algeria… We are not involved in the conflict, and we did not cause it. It is in the interest of the neighbouring countries, and Libya, that we help parties to the conflict meet each other.”
In this regard, the Maltese FM praised Egypt’s role in trying to solve the Libyan crisis, saying: “We deeply respect Egypt’s stance, as it is a moderate and stable country, and works on the stability of the region. We have noticed the cautious speech that it uses. We acknowledge the importance of Libya to Egypt, given the length of the border between the two countries. Even when we spoke with the Tripoli government, it also respects the Cairo Declaration, and the importance of bringing the two sides from Tripoli and Tobruk together to work.”
“We had high hopes when the Government of National Accord (GNA) Prime Minister Fayez Al-Sarraj and the Libyan Parliament speaker Ageela, announced a ceasefire. It might seem that the fighting has stopped despite some skirmishes, but in general the ceasefire is holding,” Bartolo said while stressing on the importance of making the ceasefire permanent.
Regarding whether Malta is aligned with any of the parties to the conflict, including Turkey, Bartolo stressed that Malta supports a unified Libya, and is not aligned with any country. “We are a neutral country, and this is very important for our independence that took centuries. We will not allow Malta to be used against other countries,” he assured.
Regarding the growing crisis in the eastern Mediterranean between Turkey, Greece, and Cyprus, he commented on it by saying that “NATO has to do more because they are allies in the end. These countries believe that they are right, and that others are wrong,” adding: “Can you imagine what would happen if war broke out? If war breaks out in the eastern Mediterranean, it will harm everyone. It will not harm Turkey alone, nor Greece alone, nor Egypt alone.”
Regarding the possibility of the European Union imposing sanctions on Turkey, Bartolo said that Malta is still discussing the matter, adding: “We will see what will happen with the continuation of the discussion. What we should do, according to my opinion, is to think about it in more than one step and think about a strategy so that the Libyan scenario does not happen again in the country. Look at what happened in Libya… what happened is that there was a decision to attack Libya and topple Gaddafi, what happened next? We are still trying to solve the problem that was created… Therefore, we hope to reduce the escalation, and engage in political dialogue to address the crisis, to prevent the consequences.”
On the issue of illegal immigration, Bartolo said: “We are not doing enough. We respect what Egypt is doing, as there are 5 or 6 million immigrants there. Ot did not obtain 60 million euros as we promised, it has only received 30 million euros.” This is not the first time that Bartolo emphasized the need for the European Union to solve the problem of illegal immigration.
He also confirmed the importance of activating fair trade agreements with African countries, including Egypt, Tunisia, Libya, and sub-Saharan countries, to provide them with job opportunities. Concluding his speech, he referred to an important issue that must be addressed firmly to stem the flow of illegal immigrants, which is the fight against human trafficking. “We must fight the smugglers and traffickers who are getting rich at the expense of those trying to cross the Sahara and the Mediterranean,” he said.