Europeans seek united stance on Libya policy after Malta throws up 'obstacles'

Maltese make overtures to Turkey as Italy convenes ministers by video link

European Union foreign policy chief Josep Borrell addresses a video press conference at the conclusion of a video conference of EU foreign affairs ministers in Brussels, Wednesday, April 22, 2020. (Olivier Hoslet, Pool Photo via AP)
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The EU has reiterated its call for a truce in Libya following infighting among its members over the direction of Operation Irini, the bloc’s naval mission to enforce a weapons embargo in the North African nation.

EU foreign policy head Josep Borrell called for a cessation of hostilities between combatants ahead of a virtual meeting of defence ministers this week.

“The European Union demands that all parties act responsibly and immediately cease the fighting over Libya,” the EU foreign policy chief said.

Malta had earlier withdrawn from Operation Irini in what has been viewed as a concession to Turkey.

Valletta had sought to influence the Ankara-backed Government of National Accord in Tripoli to further rein in migration flows from western Libya by withdrawing its support for the operation.

The GNA has protested against Operation Irini because the naval mission will stop the flow of weapons and fighters supplied by Turkey.

Mr Borrell said he had discussed the situation with Maltese Foreign Minister Evarist Bartolo.

“Political stabilisation in Libya is a condition for controlling the migrant waves in the central Mediterranean. So in the medium term the best way of facing the challenge for Malta is the stabilisation of Libya and it depends on Operation Irini,” the EU foreign policy head said.

“The Foreign Affairs Minister of Malta understood perfectly when I was talking with him and I hope these obstacles will be under control.”

Mr Borrell said he hoped the obstacles posed to the mission could be overcome “in the next days”.

Malta’s Ministry of European and Foreign Affairs did not immediately respond for comment to this article.

Earlier this week, however, Mr Bartolo reaffirmed Valletta’s backing of a ceasefire in Libya.

“We want peace not war. We do not start wars. We do not take part in them. We do not sell weapons. We seek to live in peace with everyone,” the Maltese foreign minister wrote.

Discussions between European leaders on Libya are set to continue with Italy’s Foreign Minister Luigi Di Maio saying he would be hosting video talks with European counterparts on Wednesday.

Mr Di Maio said talks would build on the foundation set out in January’s Berlin Conference, which had sought a tacit truce in Libya and brought a pledge from international powers to enforce the weapons embargo. The EU agreement on Operation Irini followed in February.

On Monday, the UAE with Cyprus, Egypt, France and Greece met to discuss recent attempts by Turkey to drill for gas in Cyprus’ territorial waters. Turkey has claimed waters around Cyprus and extending towards Libya after Ankara struck a deal with the GNA which granted access in exchange for military aid last year.

The five nations condemned Turkey’s “illegal activities” in Cyprus’ exclusive economic zone. UAE Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Dr Anwar Gargash emphasised the importance of upholding international law when it came to the eastern Mediterranean.