A Diplomat in Libya: An Interview with Ambassador Charles Saliba
Libyan Express speaks to Charles Saliba, Maltese Ambassador to Libya
Libyan Express speaks to Charles Saliba, Maltese Ambassador to Libya. He gives us his point of view on the development of the relations between Malta and Libya in the course of deepening reforms in Libya.
Libyan Express: How do you see the political role that Malta played in calming the situation between the Libyan rivals?
Ambassador Charles Saliba: Malta has always been and always will be the voice of Libya. Malta is yes, a small country but our relationship with Libya goes back decades ago. As a member of the European Union, and we have always kept Libya top on our agenda. We speak to everyone, for us, the stability of Libya is paramount.
Libyan Express: What is your comment on the recent visit of the Prime Minister to Malta?
Ambassador Charles Saliba: Having the Libyan Prime Minister in Malta clearly shows that Malta is important for the Libyans and that Libya sees Malta as one of the countries that can contribute for Libya to have stability back as soon as possible. As mentioned in the media, during the meeting we discussed many topics of importance to enhance the relationship of the two countries, including the most acclaimed topics of flights and visas.
Libyan Express: Do you intend to facilitate the procedures for obtaining a Malta visa for Libyans?
Ambassador Charles Saliba: This is a wrong perception. We are already facilitating the process for Libya. It is not true that other countries are doing any better than Malta. We are just following the Schengen and Health recommendations. I have issued many visas during the past couple of months, and we will continue to do so. Our full team at the Consulate is prepared. After six years of absence, we returned as soon as the situation on the ground improved, we established back the Embassy, opened the Consulate, recruited and trained our staff and we are now operating to serve our countries.
Libyan Express: As a high-level diplomat, have you been involved in a specific cultural project that could be of particular interest to us and our readers?
Ambassador Charles Saliba: I personally highly support cultural events and our Embassy has already been visiting some places of interest within Tripoli. During our last event, I initiated the idea of organizing a musical event between the two countries. I am also in contact with some Libyan friends who wish to seek assistance to organize cultural projects and events. This, however, needs support from the Minister of Culture in Libya and I am looking forward to finding ways to give the Libyans something different from politics.
Libyan Express: Are you satisfied with the current volume of trade exchange between Libya and Malta States? Don’t you see that there are new areas in which to cooperate?
Ambassador Charles Saliba: Since 2014, the volume of trade, like many other countries reduced drastically. Yes, we believe that Libya is a high potential country and Malta can be part of this progress. To support what I am saying, we have a specific Economic Envoy within the Embassy to support businesses between our two countries. Malta has the competitive advantage that we are the only European Union member states that have our language more than 60% in similarity. We also understand, not only the Libyan culture but the way business is conducted. Although some sectors require to be prioritized, opportunities are in every sector and I am sure that, as long as stability is sustained, the trade will be returned prior to that of 2011 and more.
Libyan Express: What about cooperation between the two countries in confronting the Corona pandemic?
Ambassador Charles Saliba: Malta joined other countries by assisting Libya in its fight against the pandemic from the very start. We contributed testing kits, masks, and the latest donation of 40,000 Astra Zeneca vaccines. Although this amount may seem by some as a low figure, I wish to point out that this represents 10% of our population, so for Malta, this is a high figure.
Libyan Express: How do you see the Maltese role in Libya today? How do you rate the bilateral cooperation between the two countries in general?
Ambassador Charles Saliba: I see the bilateral relationship is excellent. During this year, we had several high-level visits from Malta which also include our Prime Minister. As mentioned earlier, the Libyan Prime Minister and other ministers visited Malta several times. This clearly shows that the bilateral relationship is elite.
Libyan Express: The problem of immigration, according to many, is not a Libyan problem because Libya is only a land of passage. What progress and reverses have been achieved in the illegal migration file?
Ambassador Charles Saliba: I fully agree with you that Libya is a transit country. We have excellent cooperation with the Libyan Coast Guards saving the lives of those crossing the dangerous route of the Mediterranean. The South borders are of great concern, but we are already collaborating with other UN entities to fight illegal migration. Smuggling activities in Libya hinder our progress, but in this area, we are fighting together and will continue to do so to avoid tragedies in the Mediterranean Sea.
Libyan Express: How does Malta see the next Libyan political elections?
Ambassador Charles Saliba: We believe that the elections must be upheld. Without elections, the instability will continue. We stress the importance that the results should be accepted by everyone. If Libya really believes in democracy, then the will of the Libyan people should be honored. We also believe that Libya is for the Libyans and we urge international countries to avoid interference in this progress. We support the Libyan wishes and not the other way round. As for Malta, we are only interested to have our neighboring country Libya stable as soon as possible.
Libyan Express: Tell us about your stay in Libya? What are the most prominent places you visited? What do you like on a personal level? What is bothering you?!
Ambassador Charles Saliba: I returned to Libya last March, but many know, that I have been close to the Libyan people since 1991 and lived permanently in Libya for more than ten years. During this time, I visited many interesting places even in the South and East of Libya. All the places that I visited have their characteristics but maybe the most prominent were Ghadames, Green mountains, and the Sahara Desert. As a hobby, I am a musician, and I even wrote songs inspired by these Libyan locations.
I like the simplicity of the majority of the Libyan people, their kindness. I was in Libya during 2011 and 2014, and I can say that when I needed my Libyan friends, I found them all ready to help.
On the other hand, although there has been significant progress already, I wish to see improvement in human rights and more involvement of women in society.
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