Former Prime Minister Lawrence Gonzi was instrumental in avoiding Nato airstrikes on the Corinthia hotel in Tripoli at the height of the Libyan civil war in 2011.
The revelation was made by Corinthia Group chairman Alfred Pisani in the book Gonzi and Malta’s Break with Gaddafi – Recollections of a Premier (Kite Group) authored by retired diplomat and former ambassador to Libya Joseph Cassar.
Mustafa Abdul Jalil, the former chairman of the National Transitional Council (NTC) of Libya, was the guest speaker at the official launch presided by President George Abela, held yesterday evening at the Palace in Valletta.
The book deals with the unfolding of the Libyan crisis and the end of the Gaddafi regime from the perspective of the former Prime Minister, who was the last foreign leader to visit the North African country before the uprising.
There were a number of hair-raising occasions when we could have been targeted by Nato forces
As the civil war was drawing to an end and the action centred around Tripoli, the movement of rebel forces and Gaddafi loyalists created logistical problems as they both sought shelter and food.
Mr Pisani recounted how the bold decision by the Group not to abandon the Corinthia BAB Africa and its Palm City resort paid dividends as otherwise they would both have been ransacked and looted beyond any hope of recovery.
However, he acknowledged this was only possible because the Maltese authorities had kept in touch with them and the NTC forces, which were called to protect the properties.
“There were a number of hair-raising occasions when we could well have been targeted by Nato forces, but thanks to the speedy intervention of the Office of the Prime Minister we were spared the tragic consequences of an airstrike,” Mr Pisani recalled.
The highlights of the book are the dramatic escape of two Libyan pilots who landed in Malta seeking refuge and the meeting Dr Gonzi had earlier with Libyan dictator Muammar Gaddafi, just days before the start of the uprising.
Aware of the political unrest in neighbouring Tunisia and the delicate timing of the visit, Dr Gonzi had decided to accept Gaddafi’s invitation in the hope of registering progress on a number of outstanding issues between the two countries.
Feeling that it was his duty as Prime Minister and in Malta’s interest to attend the meeting scheduled for February 8, 2011, he felt “at peace with himself that this decision was the right one”.
Dr Gonzi noted that Gaddafi’s opening exchanges always touched on the health of former prime minister Dom Mintoff.
At one point the Libyan dictator instructed the members of the Maltese delegation to leave as he wished to speak to Dr Gonzi in private.
Gaddafi was keen to learn about Malta’s position on the uprising in Tunisia, insisting it had been instigated by dormant al-Qaeda cells which according to Libyan intelligence had even infiltrated his own country.
The Libyan dictator lobbied for the support of the Maltese Prime Minister, trying to persuade him to convey a message to the EU that it was vital for Tunisian President Ben Ali to be reinstalled to avoid political instability.
In his response, Dr Gonzi laid emphasis on the need for dialogue and restraint in the use of force as well as social and political reforms.
In his recollections, the former Prime Minister opined that the day’s events reflected Gaddafi’s “consistently self-centred attitude in all situations and cast doubt on how much the Libyan leader really cared about Malta, its people and their needs.
“Perhaps the time had come to re-think Malta’s longstanding relationship with the Gaddafi regime.”
The rest is history.