Vella warns ISIS presence in Libya could pose security threat

Presence of ISIS in Libya poses big security threat to Mediterranean region, foreign affairs minister George Vella says

Foreign affairs minister George Vella today warned that the growing presence of ISIS in Libya could pose an unprecedented security threat in the Mediterranean and trigger mass migration.

“If ISIS sets a foothold in Libya, this would inevitably lead to a strong reaction from both Egypt and Algeria,” he said, adding that black ISIS flags were not confined to the Islamic caliphate in Derna but these were now visible in Tripoli.

Describing the situation in Libya as a “big headache,” Vella said the North African state is in a pitiful situation which is turning into a fratricide.

With warring factions being well-armed, including military jets, Vella said UN envoy Bernardino Leon was a “persona non grata” by the self-proclaimed Tripoli government, making prospects for peace were bleak.

Vella explained that Malta had no other option to call back all diplomats from Libya because their life was at risk, adding that the situation was worsened by the fact that the Maltese embassy in the Libyan capital was in a city controlled by a self-proclaimed government which Malta does not recognise.

He added that the Italian embassy, which was better staffed and guarded, was also under the same pressures by the self-proclaimed Tripoli government.

Hope that the full blown war which many are predicting does not happen and with alliances shifting on a daily basis, the biggest danger is the presence of ISIS in Tripoli.

As Parliament continued discussing the budget's financial estimates, Vella refuted opposition MP Marthese Farrugia’s claim that the minister’s travel expenditure reached €1.2 million, explaining that “she must have erroneously cited the global expense which includes travel expenses of all ambassadors and diplomatic staff.”

He added that when compared to the previous PN administration the expenses of his travels were €100,000 less than his predecessor.   

Speaking on the situation in the occupied territories in Palestine, he recounted the harrowing situation in Gaza and reiterated  his condemnation of the “disproportionate attack by Israel.”

The minister added that during his recent visit, he perceived “enormous distrust” between Israeli and Palestinian leaders, noting that he warned Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas that only a unity government would lead to a peaceful solution.

Vella also said that Gaza has so far not received “one penny” from the aid promised by a number of countries, including Arab countries following this summer’s Israeli attack on Gaza during which over 2,000 Palestinians, mostly civilians, were killed.

Opening the debate, opposition MP Carmelo Mifsud Bonnici called on government to allocate further resources to the foreign affairs ministry and underlined the importance of appointing well-prepared diplomats.

Insisting that the opposition’s criticism was not aimed at the minister himself, Mifsud Bonnici applauded Vella’s openness and thanked him for keeping the opposition constantly informed about the latest developments.

However, he said further public debates on foreign affairs would be welcome and urged the minister to hold two or three public discussions every year.

“I am aware that the minister has a lot on his plate and is often abroad on official business but it is important that the public is regularly informed on the Malta’s foreign policy,” Mifsud Bonnici said.

Describing 2014 as a particular year, Mifsud Bonnici said that a number of armed conflicts, namely in Ukraine, Libya, Syria and Iraq, were a major cause of concern.

He said Vella’s visit to Gaza and Israel was welcome and praised him for bringing “the human tragedies happening in the Middle East to the fore.”

“We agree with government that both the people of Israel and Palestine have a right to live in peace and in security,” he said, adding that he fears that the impasse in the US led peace initiative could lead to further volatility in the region.

Stressing the importance of stability in Malta’s foreign policy, the former home affairs minister said “the role of ambassadors is becoming ever more important.”  

Explaining that Libya remains a priority for Malta, he said that “unfortunately” the North African country is edging closer to a civil war and a peaceful solution is looking more remote than ever.

Underlining the opposition’s agreement with government’s stance on Libya, Mifsud Bonnici said instability in Libya has a negative impact on Malta and the Mediterranean region and called for greater international efforts to find a peaceful solution.

He also said home affairs minister Manuel Mallia abdicated from his responsibilities in relation to migration and criticised him for having failed to meet EU Commissioner Cecilia Malmstrom during her last visit to Malta.

Opposition MP Marthese Portelli asked Vella whether there was any development on the investigations over smuggled oil and fuels from Libya and whether a solution was found over the disputed territories with neighbouring countries which has so far impeded Malta from carrying out oil exploration.