Malta's neutrality, enshrined in the Constitution in 1987, is facing its sternest test today after the United Nations Security Council adopted a resolution authorising a No Fly zone and use of military force against Libya.

The Constitution provides that:

"Malta is a neutral state actively pursuing peace, security and social progress among all nations by adhering to a policy of non-alignment and refusing to participate in any military alliance.

Such a status will, in particular, imply that:

(a) no foreign military base will be permitted on Maltese territory;

(b) no military facilities in Malta will be allowed to be used by any foreign forces except at the request of the Government of Malta, and only in the following cases:

(i) in the exercise of the inherent right of self-defence in the event of any armed violation of the area over which the Republic of Malta has sovereignty, or in pursuance of measures or actions decided by the Security Council of the United Nations; or

(ii) whenever there exists a threat to the sovereignty, independence, neutrality, unity or territorial integrity of the Republic of Malta;

(c) except as aforesaid, no other facilities in Malta will be allowed to be used in such manner or extent as will amount to the presence in Malta of a concentration of foreign forces;

(d) except as aforesaid, no foreign military personnel will be allowed on Maltese territory, other than military personnel performing, or assisting in the performance of, civil works or activities, and other than a reasonable number of military technical personnel assisting in the defence of the Republic of Malta."

The fact that military action against Libya has been duly authorised by the Security Council means there is no legal impediment stopping the government from accepting any requests for Malta to be used as a springboard for the enforcement of the no-fly zone over Libya.

The Prime Minister over the past weeks said that Malta would not be used for military action against Libya, but it was not clear whether that would apply also if military action was authorised by the UN. He also said that Malta 'will not stand idly by' if there is a genocide.

Dr Gonzi said Malta would continue to offer its services as a logistics hub for humanitarian aid.

It is not clear if Malta will allow foreign military aircraft to transit its airspace, while not landing here. French military aircraft are likely to take off from France and would therefore not need to fly through Malta's airspace to reach Libya. Similarly, British aircraft are likely to take off from bases in Cyprus and would therefore fly East of Malta's airspace. US aircraft are expected to take off from an aircraft carrier.

However Maltese airspace may have to be used if the US uses its bases in Italy, or if Italy itself decides to take part in the no-fly zone. No authorisation is needed for military aircraft to use the wider, flight information region.

Several other countries, such as Norway, Poland and Denmark, have said they intend to participate in the enforcement of a no-fly zone.

A spokesman for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs this morning could only say that Malta's position 'has not changed' but he could not give further details.

The Prime Minister has been in constant contact with the Leader of the Opposition as the upheaval in Libya evolved and further talks are likely before any change to Malta's position is decided.

Meanwhile, Libya this morning shut down its air space to all traffic, Europe's air traffic agency said.

ITALY CONSIDERS POSITION AMIDST LIBYAN 'THREAT'

Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi early today discussed Italy's response with Defence Minister Ignazio La Russa, President Giorgio Napolitano, undersecretary of state Gianni Letta and top military officials.

"Let's hope Italy keeps out of this initiative," Libyan Deputy Foreign Minister Khaled Kaaim told ANSA in Tripoli, referring to the possibility that Italy will allow its territory to be used for bombing raids on Libya.

"We are certain Italy has Libya's integrity and the protection of the population at heart. Let's hope that it doesn't consent to the use of its bases," he added.

Massimo Panizzi, a NATO advisor, told reporters in Brussels that the alliance would examine the UN resolution in detail before taking any action.

"The UN Security Council's resolution will be examined carefully. NATO will act on a clear mandate and with regional support," Panizzi told SKY Italy.

"NATO will now examine the resolution and will consider if it is necessary to act," he said.

Italy -- Libya's former colonial ruler and top trade partner -- has been diplomatically cautious so far but, like Malta has voted in favour of sanctions against Gaddafi's regime in line with the rest of the international community.

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