NEWS | Sunday, 28 September 2008

Immigration: Efforts to convene Libya and Italy get dimmer

Plans to get Italian and Libyan authorities to meet in Malta over the highly charged irregular immigration issue are getting dimmer by the minute as the two countries have resorted yet again to finger pointing and threatening to scrap a friendship agreement reached barely a month ago.
Invitations extended to the Italian and Libyan governments shortly after the President’s visit to Tripoli last August have so far remained unanswered despite the scale and urgency of the problem.
A spokesman for the Foreign Ministry said government was still hopeful to hold the tripartite meeting here although none of the two sides have agreed on a common date for a the meeting.
Relations between Italy and Libya have degenerated yet again as Berlusconi’s minister for the interior accused Libyan leader Col. Muammar Gaddafi of failing to prevent thousands of desperate immigrants from crossing the Mediterranean.
The minister and prominent member of the separatist Lega Nord party in Berlusconi’s coalition said last week that Rome was suspending the delivery of 30 police boats that Libya had just bought and threatened to withhold any compensation payments just agreed to by Italy.
Col. Gaddafi and Berlusconi signed the 25-year $5 billion friendship treaty on 30 August, with Italy agreeing to compensate Libya for abuses suffered as a colony.
Provoking a sharp reaction from the Libyan embassy in Rome, Maroni said he intends travelling to Libya next month to persuade Col. Gaddafi to crack down on the immigrants. He sad he would sail to Tripoli on one of a number of Italian patrol boats that Italy had promised to deploy in Libya to work jointly with the Libyan navy.
Libya replied it would refuse to receive Maroni if he arrives in a “spectacular manner” on a patrol boat.
“If we want to receive him, we will be the ones to indicate the date and the way to arrive,” a statement issued by the embassy and reportedly dictated by Gaddafi himself said.
Observers point out Libya’s unwillingness to curb the exodus of immigrants as part of Gaddafi’s strategy to get more money from the EU, as boatloads of desperate asylum seekers brave the sea to cross to Europe, at times with fatal consequences.
The tensions are also expected to condition a mixed commission meeting at the end of next month between Maltese and Libyan experts and politicians, in a bid to solve the continental shelf dispute that is stalling Malta’s oil exploration ambitions.
The commission is expected to meet in Malta between 27 and 29 October. Besides the dispute and a possible joint exploration agreement, the commission will keep a “special focus in an effort to find solutions that would be acceptable to both sides” as regards Libya’s exclusive fishing conservation zone and immigration, the foreign ministry spokesman said.

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