Hope that the ongoing row between Switzerland and Libya will soon be over were raised last night following an announcement by the Swiss government that it was ready to lift the ban on 188 Libyan officials, including Muammar Gaddafi.

Welcoming the announcement, Home Affairs Minister, Carm Mifsud Bonnici expressed satisfaction that common sense was leading to positive developments in this issue.

The announcement followed talks in Brussels between the EU's Foreign Affairs chief Catherine Asthon and her Swiss counterpart Micheline Calmy-Rey.

The Swiss government said after the meeting: "In the framework of the mediation efforts of the European Union, the Federal Council has declared that it is willing to lift the ban on entry into and transit through Switzerland for particular Libyan citizens as quickly as possible.

"In return, it expects Libya to lift its entry ban on citizens of countries from the Schengen area."

The news was immediately welcomed by Brussels.

Baroness Asthon said she welcomed the commitment by Switzerland to find a diplomatic solution as shown by their readiness to withdraw the black list of Libyan officials.

"The EU expects that the Libyan authorities will react in a positive way and lift the restrictive measures on EU citizens. On the basis of these constructive steps, we now hope that ongoing mediation efforts will help to resolve outstanding issues and allow the Swiss citizen Max Göldi to leave Libya soon," Baroness Asthon said.

Although positively received by EU diplomats, it was not clear last night whether the Swiss lifting of the ban was conditional on the release of Mr Goldi, a Swiss citizen held in Libya for the past 19 months.

In a press conference after yesterday's talks, Ms Calmy-Rey refused to give details on the ongoing negotiations with Libya. However, she called the meeting with Baroness Ashton as "constructive".

The issue between Libya and Switzerland has been dragging on for the past weeks and has brought severe consequences on many Maltese citizens as they were not allowed to enter Libya.

Reacting to the Swiss blacklist, Libya barred all citizens of Schengen member states from entering the country. Over the past weeks, Malta and Italy applied pressure on Switzerland to lift its ban and also threatened to circumvent the Swiss blacklist by issuing limited territorial visas after April 5 if the issue was not resolved.

Many European governments criticised Switzerland over the ban, which, although permissible under the Schengen agreement, was applied inappropriately for political reasons.

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