Italian, Greek premiers join influx of foreign visitors to Libya
TRIPOLI--The prime ministers of Italy and Greece on Tuesday joined a growing number of foreign leaders visiting Libya as it seeks to emerge from a decade of post-revolution chaos under a UN-sponsored peace process.
In his first trip abroad since taking office in mid-February, Italy’s Mario Draghi, whose country was the former colonial power in the North African state, held talks in the capital Tripoli.
“This is a unique moment for Libya,” with a new unity government in place, Draghi told a news conference, standing alongside interim prime minister Abdul Hamid Dbeibah.
Libya’s latest government hopes to bring together rival forces, especially the two main camps in the east and west, that have each been supported by foreign powers.
Parliament last month confirmed Dbeibah, following a UN-sponsored process to lead Libya to December 24 elections.
“The prerequisite for being able to move forward with courage is that the ceasefire continues and is strictly observed,” Draghi said, referring to an October deal that helped pave the way for the transitional government.
Draghi added that it was time “to rebuild what is an old friendship and a closeness that has never been broken”.
He said Italy’s embassy flew the flag as the “only” Western diplomatic mission to stay open through “all the long years of conflict” that followed Libya’s 2011 revolution which toppled dictator Muammar Gadhafi. The Italians did in fact shutter their embassy in 2015 following two bomb attacks, being was the last Western mission to close. However Italian diplomats returned two years later.
Italy is a major commercial partner for oil-rich Libya, where its energy giant Eni is a key player.
“We have numerous issues of common interest,” said his Libyan counterpart Dbeibah.
Draghi also expressed “satisfaction” with Libya’s missions at sea to intercept and rescue migrants trying to reach Italy, some 300 kilometres (190 miles) north across the Mediterranean.
Libya is a major route for migrants trying to reach Europe, and traffickers have thrived in the lawlessness that followed Gadhafi’s overthrow.
Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis also arrived in Tripoli later on Tuesday, to reopen his country’s embassy, following the example of France and Malta.
During Libya’s conflict, Athens backed eastern strongman Khalifa Haftar, after a UN-recognised Government of National Accord signed a controversial maritime agreement with Turkey in 2019.
Athens is fiercely opposed to the deal with Ankara, which claims much of the Mediterranean for energy exploration, conflicting with rival claims by Greece and Cyprus.
Dbeibah also called for European nations to reopen the airspace to Libyan aircraft.
No foreign airline currently flies to Libya for safety reasons.
International flights — to Tunisia, Turkey and Egypt — are operated by Libyan companies, which do not have access to European airspace.
Dbeibah said he and Draghi had agreed to take steps towards fully resuming commercial air traffic between their countries and to make it easier for Libyans to apply for visas to Italy from inside the country.
On Monday, Malta’s Prime Minister Robert Abela visited Tripoli where he announced its embassy was to reopen, as well as promising that air links would also be restored.
The visit by Abela came a day after European Council President Charles Michel was in the Libyan capital offering EU support for the latest bid to end the years of chaos.
Michel said an EU ambassador would return to Tripoli in the coming weeks.
The meetings came as the head of Libya’s presidential council, Mohammad Menfi, announced the formation Tuesday of a High National Reconciliation Commission.
Menfi said the commission was mandated “to bring Libyans together, to repair and deliver justice in accordance with the laws and human rights”.
UN special envoy Jan Kubis welcomed the commission, which he said was hoped to “lay the groundwork for a national reconciliation process to promote unity, tolerance, justice, human rights, and to restore the social fabric”.