Malta was prepared for any eventuality if the impasse between Libya and Switzerland persisted, Foreign Minister Tonio Borg said yesterday, without giving further details.

He said that after Libya agreed to the proposals by the Spanish EU presidency in a bid to resolve the diplomatic row between the two countries on Thursday, the Swiss government was meant to meet yesterday to decide whether the proposals were acceptable to it. The proposals have not been made public.

There was no news of any outcome yesterday, with a spokesman for the Maltese Foreign Affairs Ministry saying Malta was closely following developments.

The month-long impasse between Schengen area countries and Libya could be broken if the Swiss government accepts the proposed solution.

When asked, Dr Borg said Malta was prepared for any eventuality if the problem persisted. He, however, refused to give more details on the options Malta had.

He said he had an hour-long meeting with Libyan Prime Minister Mahmoudi al Baghdadi on Wednesday in which he explained that Malta had close ties with Libya and should not be suffering because of a problem with another country.

Malta, he said, stood by its view that the Schengen Treaty should not be used for political purposes. Moreover, Malta did not wish to be involved in issues between other states.

Dr Borg said he would raise the issue again in the EU Foreign Ministers' Council on March 22 should a solution not have been found by then.

Maltese workers have been among Schengen area travellers barred entry into Libya after Tripoli retaliated to a Swiss Schengen blacklist of 188 Libyan officials, including Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi and his relatives.

The two countries have been embroiled in a diplomatic row since July 2008 after the brief arrest in Geneva of Col Gaddafi's son, Hannibal, when two hotel workers complained he had mistreated them.

The dispute escalated when Libya detained two Swiss businessmen. Switzerland hit back by issuing the blacklist.

Last year, 270 visa applications from Libyans seeking to enter Europe's 25-state Schengen free-travel zone were rejected at Switzerland's request, out of a total of 30,000 requests.

Libya recently retaliated by announcing it was denying entry visas to citizens of European countries belonging to the Schengen zone, with Col Gaddafi later calling for a jihad (holy war) against Switzerland.

According to media reports, Italian workers were being allowed into Libya but not the Maltese. When asked about this, Dr Borg said he could not confirm that Italian nationals were being allowed in but it appeared that, if that were the case, these could be workers engaged in a particular Libyan educational project.

When asked, Dr Borg said that, so far as he knew, Col Gaddafi's state visit to Malta was "still on" as Malta had not received any information to the contrary.

He noted that when the Libyan Foreign Minister had announced Col Gaddafi's visit to Malta, possibly in May, the visa row had already started.

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