The government should clarify whether it has “horse-traded” Malta’s national assets with Italy in return for absorbing migrants rescued in the Mediterranean, according to former prime minister Lawrence Gonzi.

In an interview with The Sunday Times of Malta, Dr Gonzi asks why Italy has reversed its long-standing insistence for Malta to take in every boat rescued within its large Search and Rescue Area.

“I do not have an explanation for this change of policy… I refuse to speculate, but for years Italy had been making demands on a number of things we never accepted, mostly related mostly to oil exploration,” he told The Sunday Times of Malta.

Dr Gonzi said during his term of office the Italian government had made a series of “unreasonable claims” – namely reducing Malta’s expansive Flight Information Region; claiming exclusive rights for oil exploration in the northwest part of our continental shelf and “the even more absurd claim” over all the continental shelf, stretching from the southeast tip of Sicily towards Libya.

Speaking ahead of the EU-Africa migration summit in Malta on November 11, Dr Gonzi is urging the government to allay suspicions of a secret deal between the two countries to exchange irregular migrants for oil exploration rights.

“I hope the government will hold its ground on these issues and never give in, whatever the negotiation or proposal on the table,” he said, insisting it was in Malta’s national interest to clear up the issue.

Watch excerpts of the interview above. Read the interview in The Sunday Times of Malta.

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