Italy PM Meloni in Libya to sign cooperation dealsTue, 07 May 2024 13:18:21 GMT

Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni began a visit to Libya on Tuesday to sign cooperation agreements, and was set to meet leaders from rival administrations in the conflict-torn country.Accompanied by a ministerial delegation on her second visit to Libya since taking office in October 2022, Meloni met the head of the Tripoli-based government, Abdelhamid Dbeibah, Libyan officials said.”Declarations of intent” were due to be signed on cooperation in health, education and research as well as youth and sports, an Italian government statement said.It said the agreements come as part of Meloni’s long-awaited “Mattei Plan” named after Enrico Mattei, founder of the Italian energy company Eni. In the 1950s, he advocated for cooperation with African countries to develop their natural resources.On her first visit to Libya early last year, Meloni signed a major gas deal with the north African country, the continent’s richest in hydrocarbon reserves.After Tripoli, Meloni was set to head to Benghazi to meet General Khalifa Haftar, strongman of the eastern-based administration, “in accordance with Italy’s consolidated commitment to be present throughout Libya and to work with all Libyan actors”, the Italian statement said.Libya has been plagued by political instability and violence since the overthrow of longtime dictator Moamer Kadhafi in 2011.It is split between Dbeibah’s UN-recognised government in Tripoli and a rival administration in the east, backed by Haftar.Political instability has helped turn Libya into a fertile ground for human traffickers, who have long been accused of abuses against the thousands of irregular migrants who attempt the perilous crossing of the Mediterranean to Italy every year.Meloni vowed last month to take a “new approach” towards Africa, particularly on migration, on a visit to Libya’s neighbour Tunisia, another key departure point for irregular migration to Europe.Critics have said the Mattei plan is aimed at funnelling African energy north while exchanging investment in local economies for deals to curb migration.