First Published: 2008-08-08

Italy, Libya in talks to settle outstanding disputes

Italian PM says talks with Libyan counterpart constructive, expects agreement within one month.


Middle East Online

Mahmoudi (L) with Berlusconi

ROME - Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi and his Libyan counterpart met Thursday to discuss how to settle outstanding disagreements between their countries, ANSA news agency reported.

No official statement was released after the meeting but Berlusconi later told journalists during a visit to Naples that his talks with Baghdadi Mahmoudi had been "constructive".

"We worked well and hope to reach an agreement within a month," he added.

The pair had pledged during a previous meeting last month to settle all outstanding disagreements "as quickly as possible".

Italy and Libya, a former Italian colony, have spent years negotiating a wide-ranging treaty covering compensation for colonial times.

A key component is the construction of a three-billion-euro (4.65 billion dollar) coastal motorway through Libya, Tunisia and Egypt -- funding of which was promised by Berlusconi on a visit to Tripoli in 2004, when he headed a previous administration.

Formerly a part of the Ottoman Empire, Libya was occupied by Italy in 1911 before becoming a colony in the 1930s. The country gained its independence in 1951 after a brief period under a UN-mandated Franco-British administration.

At the time Berlusconi also called for the rapid implementation of a December 2007 accord on joint maritime patrols to fight illegal immigration.

The accord was among issues discussed when Berlusconi met Libyan leader Moamer Kadhafi in June.

Under the deal, Italian naval vessels were to patrol off the Libyan coast with Libyan sailors on board, but the agreement has yet to be implemented and thousands continue to make the perilous voyage.

Italian shores, especially the small island of Lampedusa south of Sicily, are a favourite destination for those making the crossing from Libya and other parts of North Africa in the hope of a new life in Europe.

A total of 191 boat people were rescued on Thursday from five vessels off Lampedusa, the coastguard said.

About 40 women were among the would-be immigrants who had set sail from Libya, a coastguard official said.

Arrivals to Italian shores have doubled to nearly 12,000, including 10,402 to Lampedusa, so far this year compared to 5,387 in 2007.

Also on Thursday, some 120 would-be immigrants to Malta, the tiny European Union island state northeast of Lampedusa, failed to make it out of Libyan waters as their boat ran out of fuel, UN refugee agency officials.

Libyan authorities have agreed to take the migrants back, said Neil Falzon, head of the UNHCR office in the Maltese capital Valletta, noting they had also run out of water about 150 nautical miles south of Malta.

Separately, Italy announced late Thursday that six crewmembers of an Italian trawler which had been intercepted by Libya on Saturday off the Libyan coast were released.


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