Malta likely to become first EU country to open Libya mission

Sunday 01/05/2016
Show of support for Sarraj government

TRIPOLI - Malta will likely become the first EU member to open an embassy in Libya, its premier said Wednesday as he visited Tripoli in a show of support for the UN-backed unity government.
Prime Minister Joseph Muscat is the first head of a European government to travel to Libya since the UN-backed Government of National Accord arrived in Tripoli five weeks ago.
"We'll probably become the first (EU) country to return," Muscat said after meeting GNA chief Fayez al-Sarraj.
But he stressed his country "requires guarantees" before it can press ahead with the plan to open a diplomatic mission.
Many countries closed their Libyan embassies in 2014 when conflict broke out between two rival administrations in the North African nation.
But several European states have announced they are considering reopening them following the arrival of the unity government on March 30.
The island of Malta is the nearest European neighbour of Libya, located about only 300 kilometres (185 miles) from its shores.
It has a large Libyan community including refugees, students and also business-owners who have shifted operations to the island to avoid the chaos in their homeland.
Muscat agreed with Sarraj on the need to set up "technical committees" to revive bilateral agreements.
The Maltese leader also voiced support for the GNA.
"The fact that this is the first delegation to be led by a prime minister to visit your government here in Tripoli is a very strong political signal that we want to send as Malta, as your closer neighbour in the Mediterranean," said Muscat.
"We're here to show that Europe stands, Malta stands, with your government and fully supports it."
Sarraj said he was keen for Air Malta to restore flights to Libya, which was left isolated after many airlines ended their services to the North African country.
"We've agreed on several bilateral agreements, we're working on their implementation and the constitution of technical committees to work on these agreements," said the head of the GNA.
Sarraj has pushed to assert the GNA's authority since arriving in Tripoli under naval escort, and the new government has taken control of several ministries.
Libya has been roiled by turmoil since the 2011 ouster and killing of dictator Moamer Kadhafi in a NATO-backed uprising, with rival forces vying for control of the oil-rich country's wealth.