Maltese officials in first meeting with Eastern Libya military leader Khalifa Haftar

A Maltese delegation has met with Eastern Libya military leader Khalifa Haftar in a diplomatic first


31 May 2023,
by Nicole Meilak

 2 min read

Permanent Secretary Christopher Cutajar (left) walking with Libya Field Marshal Khalifa Haftar

Permanent Secretary Christopher Cutajar (left) walking with Libya Field Marshal Khalifa Haftar

For the first time, a Maltese diplomatic delegation has met with Libyan Field Marshal Khalifa Haftar for talks in Benghazi on security challenges faced by Malta and Libya in the region.

The delegation, led by the Permanent Secretary at the Ministry of Foreign and European Affairs and Trade Christopher Cutajar, saw several meetings held in Tripoli and Benghazi on 29 and 30 May.

He was joined by Ryan Spagnol (Secretary to the Cabinet), Charles Saliba (Malta’s Ambassador to Libya), Brigadier Clinton O’Neill (AFM Commander), and former prison boss Alex Dalli, who is Malta’s Special Envoy for Migration.

During meetings in Benghazi, Cutajar welcomed developments in the security track following discussions held in 5+5 Joint Military Commission (JMC) meetings.

The 5+5 JMC is a military committee consisting of five senior military officers selected by the Government of National Accord, and another five selected by Haftar as leader of the Libyan National Army.

The meeting focused on security challenges in the region, particularly that of irregular migration. The delegations agreed to extend military cooperation between the respective navies and military forces.

The delegation also discussed intelligence showing how migrant smuggling groups are using chartered flights from Syria to lure Bangladeshi people to Libya where they get onto boats to reach Europe.

MaltaToday reported on this intelligence last April, with criminal groups charging migrants €1,500 each for the transfer between Damascus in Syria and Benghazi in Libya, using flights operated by Syrian airline Cham Wings.

The delegations also discussed the potential of a direct air connection between Benghazi and Malta to complement already established routes to Tripoli and Misrata while enhancing possibilities for commercial exchanges from the region.

In Tripoli, the delegation also met with General Abdulfatah Belug, Head of Operations of the Armed Forces, Admiral Al Buni, Head of Navy and Admiral Ridaa Ben Isa, Head of Coast Guard, as well as Mr Mohammed Said, Under-Secretary at the Ministry of Interior.

The two delegations explored new avenues of cooperation, particularly in light of the renewal of the Memorandum of Understanding on Migration that was signed in 2020. It was valid for a period of three years to be renewed automatically for another year.

They also discussed the setting up of a joint committee to enhance working-level contacts between the different services.

Haftar, leader of the so-called Libyan National Army whose powerbase is in the east, has spurned international efforts to end Libya’s conflict, rejecting the UN-backed Government of National Accord after it was formed in 2015.

Libya has been wracked by internal divisions ever since the ousting of Muammar Gaddafi in 2011 led to the collapse of the economy and oil production, and to a political vacuum in which human trafficking has proliferated, resulting in mass deaths of refugees trying to cross the Mediterranean to Europe.

Control of the country is split between the UN-backed government in Tripoli and forces loyal to the parliament in the eastern city of Tobruk, which are commanded by Haftar.