Malta affirms ‘neutrality’ in call with Egypt after Ankara meeting with Turkey-GNA alliance

As Egypt and Turkey edge closer to the possibility of armed conflict this week in Sirte in Libya, Malta joined the Turkish-Libyan alliance in Ankara for talks on security in the Mediterranean

L-R: Libyan defence minister Fathi Bashaga, Turkish defence minister Hulusi Akar, and Maltese home affairs minister Byron Camilleri in Ankara
L-R: Libyan defence minister Fathi Bashaga, Turkish defence minister Hulusi Akar, and Maltese home affairs minister Byron Camilleri in Ankara

Malta is pursuing deeper ties with the Turkish-Libyan partnership that has allowed the UN-recognised Government of National Accord (GNA) to repel Field Marshal Khalifa Haftar’s forces into Eastern Libya. 

In an official visit to Ankara, home affairs minister Byron Camilleri met Turkish defence minister Hulusi Akar and Libyan defence minister Fathi Bashagha for talks on security in the Mediterranean and on irregularly migration from Libya. 

Malta has attempted to broker an exchange with Turkey and Libya in a bid to encourage the GNA to control the outflow of migrants from its coasts, a business controlled by criminal organisations and Libyan militias. 

But Egypt and Turkey edged closer to the possibility of armed conflict this week over Libya, with both sides preparing for an impending battle over a key city. 

Egypt’s parliament voted unanimously behind closed doors to rubber-stamp president Abdel Fattah el-Sisi’s proposed military intervention in support of Haftar.  Meanwhile, Turkey positioned heavy weaponry and fighters along the battlefront near the city of Sirte, the central Libyan city that is the gateway to the country’s crucial eastern oil infrastructure. 

The battle over Sirte, the hometown of the late dictator Muammar Gaddafi, is now shaping up as a confrontation between two axis in the Middle East: on the one side are the authoritarian regimes of Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates, backed by Russian mercenaries and France, who support Haftar’s Libyan National Army. On the other are populist Islamist-leaning governments in Turkey, Qatar and the GNA. 

On Wednesday, foreign minister Evarist Bartolo had a phone call with Egyptian counterpart Sameh Shoukry, where Libya and security in the Mediterranean were discussed.

“The two ministers agreed on the need for peace in Libya so that Libyans can find common ground between themselves and solve their problems through political solutions and not warfare,” the Maltese government said in a statement.

Bartolo said that Malta was a neutral country “that wants to be a friend of all countries. Therefore, wherever there is conflict and disputes, it calls for peaceful resolution and for the common good to prevail.”

Bartolo said he had called for a united Libya “in the hands of the Libyans themselves who run their country for the good of their people”.

He also said that Libya should be helped in the fight against human trafficking and irregular immigration, adding that the central Mediterranean route towards the southern European border was completely open and that the European Union “is not protecting itself”.

In a sop to Turkey, Malta withdrew from the Irini naval operation controlled by the EU, whose purpose is to enforce an arms embargo in Libya, but which mainly controls sea flows from Turkey to western Libya. Turkey’s supply of arms, air supremacy and even fighters from Syria has been responsible for the GNA to repel Haftar.

In a statement, the Maltese government said it was being “proactive” in initiatives aimed at combating organised crime that hampers the stability of the Mediterranean. 

 “Malta and Turkey are in advanced talks to develop a collaboration agreement to fight transnational crime. The main principle behind this agreement is for authorities in the two countries to collaborate on the prevention and investigation of serious criminal offences such as terrorism, money laundering, and the trafficking of drugs, weapons and persons,” Camilleri said. 

Camilleri added that Turkey now “considers Malta as a strategic country in the Mediterranean” in the fight against people smugglers in the central Mediterranean. 

The Ankara visit was part of a series of tripartite meetings that also focused on a political solution for Libya, based on a ceasefire and national unity.  

At another meeting between Camilleri and Bashagha, both sides “acknowledged that Libyan authorities are succeeding in stopping many of the illicit crossings in the central Mediterranean, there are still challenges that require the commitment of both countries.” 

Camilleri also met Turkish counterpart Süleyman Soylu to discuss matters of law enforcement and civil protection were discussed. The Maltese delegation included officials from the Maltese government, Malta’s Ambassador-designate to Turkey Theresa Cutajar and the Commander of the Armed Forces of Malta Jeffrey Curmi.