Three months after the capture of the 18 fishermen of Maraza Del Vallo, the UN, during today’s press conference, declared to La Voce di New York that it is directly involved in finding the solution for the seafarers’ release. The militias of General Khalifa Haftar had kidnapped them on the evening of September 1st, and since then, they have been held in custody in the Benghazi barracks on charges of trespassing into Libyan waters. La Voce di New York asked if the UN took action as a result of the Italian government’s request, since the waters in which the fishermen were captured were actually international waters, but the UN-Secretary General’s spokesman replied he didn’t know about a direct request from Italy (18.40 minutes).
The perception is that the Italian diplomatic action, hiding behind confidentiality, appears too weak to be able to bring the fishermen home. The victims’ families, who have been protesting in Piazza Montecitorio for weeks, are pleading with the government to bring them home. So far, they have only managed to obtain words of support from the Italian President of the Republic, Sergio Mattarella, and those of Pope Francesco, who during the Angelus on October 18th, pledged to launch a firm appeal.
While Italy supports the Political Dialogue for a lasting peace in Libya, the fishermen doesn’t seem like a priority. So, a few days ago, Salvatore Quinci, Mazara del Vallo’s mayor, made himself heard again: “Ninety days are too many, now the time for patience is really over because our community is waiting very anxiously,” then he attacked the EU, stating that “it is the real absentee in this affair.” Regarding the diplomatic action of the Foreign Minister, Luigi Di Maio, he said: “We have welcomed with pleasure the effort of Minister Di Maio to organize the call on 11th November, but that cannot be considered a goal. The issue, which is truly political and entirely internal to Libya, requires the decisive and committed intervention of international actors, but today we have the feeling that the whole weight is on the shoulders of these mothers, brothers and children.”
For the past few weeks, there has been heavy criticism, including the total dissent of former admiral Nicola De Felice, who said: “If the government really wanted to defend our sovereignty then Italians would intervene with a blitz and free our fishermen who are in the hands of the criminal Haftar. Or at least put military pressure on them.” Khalifa Haftar is a Libyan National Army exponent, never recognized by the UN, previously engaged in the battle for the capture of Tripoli and now involved in a difficult peace process.
Di Maio, accused by many of not flexing his muscles, replied to the several criticisms a few days later in the Senate, stating that Italy “will not be blackmailed” and promising to bring the hostages home, but “by obtaining the result in silence.” To date, the only promise kept is that of discretion, so much so that not a word was spoken about the fishermen imprisoned during the phone call with the UN envoy for Libya, Stephanie Williams, or at least, not a word was made public in the official note issued by the Farnesina on 21st November.
On Wednesday December 1st, the first monthly briefing of South Africa’s presidency at the Security Council was also held and the ambassador to the UN, answering several questions about Libya, acknowledged how the strong divisions among the members also complicate the choice for the special envoy.
General Khalifa Haftar, who first raised the stakes by trying to force an exchange of prisoners condemned by Italian justice for human trafficking, and then by accusing the seafarers of carrying drugs aboard fishing boats, is succeeding in his intent to humiliate Italy.
“There are a few days left before the Christmas holidays,” Giovanna Benigno and Giovanni Maniscalco, former councilors of Trapani’s province, wrote in a letter, “but there will be families who won’t experience Christmas; children, mothers, wives are awaiting for the return of their loved ones, eighteen sailors who have been held in Libya for too long now”. They are on the side of the victims’ families, and they conclude, “We are convinced that if an entire community solicits their release, who knows that some wall won’t be pulled down and Christmas can come with a sign of new hope for all.”