Maltese diplomats in Libya were shadowed, pressured to choose sides

Foreign Affairs Minister George Vella says Maltese diplomats faced pressure by Tobruk government not to cooperate with the parliament in Tripoli.

Foreign affairs minister George Vella
Foreign affairs minister George Vella

Maltese diplomats in Tripoli faced pressure by the Tobruk government not to cooperate with the self-proclaimed parliament in Tripoli.

Although Malta, as per EU and UN directives, recognises the government in Tobruk as the sole representative of the people of the Libya, Malta cannot choose sides.

A recent decision by the Constitutional Court is now questioning the legitimacy of the Tobruk government, claiming irregularities in the elections held. Only 2% of the 1.5 million registered voters took part in the elections. This could potentially change the position of the international community.

Malta, together with Italy and Hungary, was the only EU embassy to remain open in Tripoli while consular services were suspended.

"Our embassy remained open as an expression of solidarity and respect towards the people of Libya. The parties in power however cannot ask us to choose one side over the other. It is neither our duty nor our competence to choose. We base our actions on what the UN and the EU establish," Foreign Affairs Minister George Vella said.

Vella, who has pushed for dialogue between the Libyan factions, admitted it had "pained him" to recall the Maltese diplomats back to the island but he could not endanger their lives.

"Our diplomats were facing diplomatic pressure, receiving telephone calls and messages not to communicate in any way with the self-proclaimed parliament in Tripoli. I can't say that they were physically threatened but they were being shadowed. And we can all read the signs," Vella said.

The pressure was reportedly being mounted by people close to the Libyan Dawn, who have effectively taken control of Tripoli. 

Vella said Malta enjoyed a good relationship with both sides but things began to take a turn for the worse when radicalized positions started to be adopted.

"We were pushing for dialogue and even offered for the sides to hold discussions in Malta. Eventually, only Al-Thinni came and we invited [UN envoy] Bernardino Leon for the talks," he said.

Vella added that the presence of ISIS in Libya, with reports of black flags flying in Tripoli, continued to make matters worse.

The Maltese government has reactivated the crisis centre in Libya and, while the government encourages Maltese to return home, it cannot force them to do so.

"On the surface, life in Tripoli appears normal with shops remaining open. But the political pressure is there. We still remain available to help the Maltese businesses in Libya."

During the press conference, Vella was also asked whether Home Affairs Minister Manuel Mallia should resign following the shooting incident involving his driver. Vella refused to answer saying that it was not his competence to comment on the matter.

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