PRISTINA-PARIS FLIGHT - On his one-and-half day whistlestop tour in the West Balkans, touching Belgrade, Skopje, Pristina, the Foreign Minister, Luigi Di Maio, voiced a message of support to the stabilisation of the region and its inclusion within the European Union. He visited the Kfor Command in Kosovo, speaking with the 500 Italian military who now lead the Nato mission. He remembered the efforts by our Country to achieve peace, both here, where a bloody civil war has left deep wounds that are still healing, and in Libya, where the time to act is now. By means of a total arms embargo on all parties to the conflict. But when he boards the flight to Paris, for dinner with his French counterpart Le Drian, Di Maio stops to talk about Patrick George Zaky, the Egyptian researcher at Bologna University, whose detention appears similar to that of Giulio Regeni, before being tortured and slaughtered.
What information do you have concerning Patrick Zaky?
«A short while ago (last night, ed.) our Ambassador Giampaolo Cantini met with Mohammed Fayek, Chairman of the National Human Rights Council based in Cairo. The Embassy is doing all it can to collect information and activate the application of the human rights guarantees. We are doing the same at European level, requesting the Union to attentively monitor the process».
And do you think this will be enough? Zaky's lawyer has revealed the use of torture.
«Italy is always at the forefront of the protection of human rights, regardless of this young man's nationality. We are collecting all the possible information for shedding a clear light on the matter».
This case seems a repeat of the still unsolved case of Giulio Regeni. Egypt has not yet provided answers to the questions posed by his family and the Country. Don't you think it's high time we withdrew the ambassador once again, in the face of this wall of silence?
«I have met with Giulio Regeni's parents and publicly made it very clear that our goal, from the formation of this Government, is to re-establish a working relationship between the judicial authorities in the two countries, after a 1-year long stop. On 14 January, there was a first technical meeting and today - as soon as the new Chief Prosecutor is appointed in Rome - a senior level meeting must be held, to signify their willingness to move forward. I'm no Alice in Wonderland, I know that it will not be an easy manner, but I do expect a degree of sensibility. We want the perpetrators to be identified and punished. This fact-finding process and call for justice, however, can be effectively implemented only if our ambassador is in his place. The same can be said for Patrick Zaky, we can more effectively help him if Italy is present in Cairo».
Why is Italy selling to al Sisi's regime the ships that Fincantieri built for our Navy, despite his poor human rights record?
«The Government has not yet taken a final decision on the Fremm frigates. Negotiations are under way between Fincantieri and the Egyptian Government, but we are closely monitoring the situation and no sale has yet been approved».
Leonardo is also selling helicopters and aircraft to al Sisi, who is building up his military capacity.
«We can't undo any past supplies. There were agreements in place and they are being fulfilled. We have no responsibility for this».
So, which sort of relationship should Italy have with Egypt today?
«When we were tackling the Libyan question we were obliged to work with Egypt as well, which is part of the Berlin Conference and a crucial player for stabilising the Mediterranean, and for energy matters also. But I can guarantee to you that each time I or Prime Minister Conte meet with al Sisi, the first talking point is the truth about Regeni».
The EU Envoy for Libya Josep Borrell has asked Italy to accept the return of the naval mission known as Operation Sophia. How do you reply?
«We are insisting that the European mission must implement a serious arms embargo on all the parties involved, and the arms are arriving by air, sea and land. Especially air and land».
Do you mean that there is no need for the EU naval units to patrol an area currently occupied by Turkish ships?
«What I mean is that the most effective way for making sure that no arms enter Libya is air control, by means of satellites and drones. Operation Sophia is encountering difficulties from various European countries».
Austria fears it may become a pull factor for migrants. Is this why Italy too is doubtful?
«Clearly the mission may also feature the deployment of naval units, but we need to introduce rules of engagement solely for the purpose of enforcing the embargo».
You know very well that the law of the sea and international law require the rescue of refugees.
«Of course, the law of the sea must be applied, but the migrants must then be accepted by the flag country of the ship».
But you also know that the first requirement is to find a safe port. What is the purpose of our belated requests to amend the Italy-Libya Memorandum if the Unhcr has been obliged to close down a centre because it could no longer guarantee the safety of the operators and migrants?
«First of all, it is important that the Unhcr has confirmed its intention to remain in Libya, because its role there, and that of the Iom, is fundamental for ensuring respect of the Berlin agreements. The detention centres must be closed to open Un-controlled reception centres. However, the safety situation in Libya is deteriorating and, due to the lack of revenue from oil, the Government will soon no longer have any money to guarantee essential services to the population. The problem does not concern only the 3000 refugees in the centres, but the entire population of the country and the 700 thousand migrants currently living there, who might find other routes».
You have guaranteed that the seventeen year old boy left in Wuhan will soon brought home, but the 24 hours you spoke of have already passed. When is Niccolò coming home?
«An Air Force plane is ready to go and fetch him on the opposite side of the world. There is a timeframe we need to abide by, for technical and bureaucratic reasons. It's got nothing to do with the political will. I have spoken with his parents, who are in touch with him. Niccolò is well and will soon be home».
What do you think about the competition between Matteo Salvini and Giorgia Meloni to establish ties with the Trump administration?
«Rather than wanting to please Trump it seems to me that it's a competition between themselves. Why don't they ever talk about the trade tariffs that are hitting our businesses?».