Lawrence Gonzi yesterday became the first Prime Minister to visit Tripoli and hold a bilateral meeting with his counterpart in Libya, Abdurrahim Khaled Abdulhafiz El-Keib.
It is clear that the Libyan government’s main concern is the release of assets which are being held by numerous countries around the world, something which Prime Minister Lawrence Gonzi said he had already lobbied hard for in the Paris summit a couple of months ago.
Following the hour-long meeting, Dr Gonzi and Dr El-Kheib emerged from the PM’s chambers to address a rather lengthy press conference, with the Libyan media rightfully enjoying their new found freedom to ask and probe about their government.
Dr El Kheib said the Libyan people acknowledged the role of Malta in the overthrow of the Gaddafi regime. “Malta took a clear, strong and courageous position only days into the revolution” said Dr El Kheib.
“Maltese-Libyan relations are very old and have always been strong and close, except during the last 42 years when a sort of mist descended and this did not help both of our peoples,” said Dr El Kheib.
He said Malta and Libya had common interests and that relations were going to be strengthened, based on a sense of friendship. “Today, my brother Lawrence Gonzi is here. We have spoken and there is clear agreement on the way forward to improve this friendship between two peoples, relations based on mutual respect, I thank you,” said Dr El Kheib concluded.
Dr Gonzi said he was glad to have formally set up, with his counterpart, a new chapter in relations between Malta and Libya. “It is still the beginning, it will be difficult to build a new democratic Libya, but we are confident that you can do it, together, to give the Libyan people the country that they deserve,” said the Prime Minister.
He said that Malta and Libya have common interests. “Libya is back in business and we are pleased to say that Air Malta has, of today, set up a thrice weekly flight to Tripoli and this frequency will be increasaed in the future,” he said.
Dr Gonzi also encouraged the Libyan government to tackle the issues of peace and security in the Mediterrranean, coupled with sustainable fishing, maritime pollution and irregular migration.
While fielding questions from the floor, Dr El Kheib said that Libya would focus on these areas and will respect Malta in terms of migration by sea. However, he reiterated his call for assets to be unfrozen as Libya needed these funds to tackle the same above mentioned problems.
Finance Minister Tonio Fenech’s meetings also centred around the unfreezing of Libyan assets, which are being witheld in accordance with the UN 1973 resolution.
Mr Fenech also said that the Libyan government wanted Maltese business interests in Malta to pick up where they left off. To that effect, he said, a businesses delegation visit was being planned, and an agreement is being brokered whereby Malta Enterprise will offer assistance to the Libyan Government in the field of startups and SMEs.
(Source: Malta Independent)