[WATCH] Inclement weather dampens official handover of Libyan jets

Lawrence Gonzi promises Libya the support of Malta in long road towards democracy.

Lawrence Gonzi meets the two fighter jet pilots who defected from the Gaddafi regime in 2011.
Lawrence Gonzi meets the two fighter jet pilots who defected from the Gaddafi regime in 2011.

Prime Minister Lawrence Gonzi today presided over the official handover of the two Libyan Mirage jets that landed in Malta on 21 February, 2011 when their pilots defected from the Gaddafi regime.

The handover was marked by the presentation of the two helmets to the pilots by Gonzi took place at the AFM Airwing in Kirkop.

The inclement weather has however delayed the return of the jets to Libya.

Present for the ceremony were also Health Minister Joe Cassar, Libyan Health Minister Fatma Hamroush, outgoing Libyan Ambassador to Malta Saadun Suayeh, the AFM Commander and the General Commander of the Libyan Armed Forces.

Gonzi said the handover closed a chapter in an experience that saw the Libyan people rise up to claim their liberty and freedom, overthrowing the Gaddafi regime during a civil conflict that lasted eight months.

The two high-ranking Libyan air force pilots who fled to Malta in their aircraft were reported to have told officials they escaped rather than carry out orders to bomb civilians. It is also believed they had accompanied a French delegation out of Libya as they made their escape in the days following the 17 March Day of Rage uprising.

"Today is the beginning of a new chapter, symbolized by the return of the planes," Gonzi said, who stressed upon the role of the Maltese government in denouncing the Gaddafi regime in the early days of the Libyan uprising.

"Exactly a year ago, just four days after the uprising and when there was yet no international awareness of the conflict, Malta woke up to the news that two jets had landed in Malta. I'm very proud that Malta was, before any other country, on the side of the Libyan people," Gonzi said.

"We were against the cruel action of the Gaddafi regime."

Gonzi said that Malta had taken a risk by refusing a Libyan delegation that came to Malta twenty-four hours after the pilots' defection, to reclaim the jets, when Air Malta aircraft was also in Libya at that point.

He added that on 10 March, when three Dutchmen had been captured in Libya, Malta insisted on their release from captivity, but when the regime insisted on having the jets returned, Malta refused. "Yet again we took a risk and said, 'no, you should be ashamed of yourself."

Gonzi said the handover of the jets today celebrated the courage of the two pilots who defected from the Gaddafi regime. "We won't forget the innocent people who died in Libya; we salute the heroes who led to a free Libya - it's not an easy road, but they have chosen that road and there will be difficult times ahead..."

"We also celebrate the values we share with each other - we both respect human dignity, we want to allow each person the freedom of speech and freedom of coming together, and we share the value of good neighbours, not only geographically, but also human values."

In comments to MaltaToday, Gonzi reacted to news of incessant militia conflict and reports by Amnesty International of the continued torture of supporters of the former regime, dark-skinned Libyans and African migrants.

"Our position has been constantly categorical: we believe in dignity, and we are worried with these reports. We know Libya has a difficult road ahead for its liberty and human dignity. We hope that aim is reached. As a government, we have promised our support to Libya for all the help it will need in the different sectors of democracy."

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Luke Camilleri
U kemm ha jdum jippoza mal-Libyani? Wara dak it-taghanniq kollhu taht it-tinda ma Gaddafi , veru jidher falz! Ta' min dejjem ifakkar li ta' qablu l-Emeritus kien mar jaghti l'appogg il-Gaddafi .... meta dan kellu kwistjoni ma Mintoff fuq il-Linja Medjana! Ma Gaddafi zamm Eddie u mhux ma Mintoff u l'interessi tal-Maltin!
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Luke Camilleri
U kemm ha jdum jippoza mal-Libyani? Wara dak it-taghanniq kollhu taht it-tinda ma Gaddafi , veru jidher falz! Ta' min dejjem ifakkar li ta' qablu l-Emeritus kien mar jaghti l'appogg il-Gaddafi .... meta dan kellu kwistjoni ma Mintoff fuq il-Linja Medjana! Ma Gaddafi zamm Eddie u mhux ma Mintoff u l'interessi tal-Maltin!
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Gonzi thanked the pilots for not taking over his government when they had his air force out-numbered two to zero. There were plenty of innocent people who died under Geddafi - with Malta complicit to the full extent in supporting this regime. THOSE - we will choose to forget. As the last leader to confer with Geddaffi, Gonzi assured them that the friendship between the two countries can always count on hypocracy and bags on money.