[WATCH] After plane crash, home affairs minister insists no foreign military stationed in Malta

Carmelo Abela insists no foreign military personnel using Malta as a base from which to conduct overseas operations, distances himself from reports that military aircraft which crashed in Safi was travelling to Libya 

Home affairs minister Carmelo Abela greets soldiers at the AFM's Luqa headquarters. Photo: Chris Mangion
Home affairs minister Carmelo Abela greets soldiers at the AFM's Luqa headquarters. Photo: Chris Mangion
Carmelo Abela says no foreign military stationed in Malta

Home affairs minister Carmelo Abela has insisted that no foreign military personnel are using Malta as a base from which to conduct overseas operations.

He was responding to questions from the press at the AFM's headquarters in Luqa following the plane crash of a Fairchild Metroliner outside the Malta International Airport in Luqa on Monday morning, in which five French personnel lost their lives.

Abela was short on details about the tragedy, and didn’t answer whether the people on the plane were military personnel or whether the plane in question was en route to Libya.

Indeed, he distanced himself from unconfirmed reports that the aircraft was on its way to Misrata in northwestern Libya.

“You are mentioning Libya. It is not mentioned in the official statement, so mentioning it is your responsibility,” he told MaltaToday. “The operation was a regional one, so it is not a question of saying whether the plane was bound to Libya or not and as such, you should stick to the government’s official press release.”

He confirmed that the flight was part of a French Customs mission to trace human and drug trafficking routes in the Mediterranean, and that the mission has been ongoing since May – the same time the plane first arrived in Malta.

The aircraft was registered in the US and leased to CAE Aviation, a company based in Luxembourg that specialises in maritime and terrestrial surveillance for civil contractors, NGOs as well as NATO, the EU and other numerous government agencies and departments.

Abela also told journalists that further details on the plane crash would be revealed in a ministerial statement to be delivered in parliament this evening.

The minister was speaking during a press conference, following discussions with Frontex director Fabrice Leggeri ahead of Malta’s upcoming stint at the helm of the EU’s rotating presidency.

Leggeri said that discussions focused on beefing up the ability of European countries to deport failed asylum seekers to their home countries, noting that the EU has recently struck deals with Afghanistan on Sudan on the return of migrants from the respective countries who fail to gain asylum in Europe.

He added that Frontex – which is set to be reformed into a European Border and Coast Guard Agency – will soon be able to “gain more personal data” from asylum seekers its officials assess in Italy and Greece.

“This data will be shared with Europol and national police forces, with the intention of locating human traffickers,” Leggeri said.

Similarly, Abela called for a more “holistic” approach to the management of European borders, with a higher focus on the return and readmission of migrants who don’t qualify for international protection.

He said that the Malta Armed Forces has deployed 398 soldiers to Frontex missions over the past three years – 170 to Operation Triton around the Italian coast, 214 to Operation Poseidon around the borders between Europe and Turkey, and 14 officers to the Triton International Coordination Centre in Rome.

“The government is committed to continue investing in the AFM’s capacity to serve in such missions abroad,” he said, noting that the 2017 Budget has allocated some €400,000 to the military to be dedicated towards this task.