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Malta, Italy in yet another spat over migration

Malta insists it cannot intercept boats in international waters when they are not in distress

Matteo Salvini.

Matteo Salvini.

Malta and Italy engaged in another spat over migration on Thursday, the second in as many days.

Italian Interior Minister Matteo Salvini in a tweet insisted that Malta 'must do its duty' regarding several migrant boats found in waters controlled by Malta. But Malta retorted that since the boats were on the high seas and not in distress they had a right of passage and could not be intercepted.

The Italian minister said that if Malta did not act, he would do whatever possible to ensure that the migrants did not land in Italy.

But in a retort, the Maltese government said these were not search and rescue cases, as confirmed by Mr Salvini himself in his tweet.

"The Maltese authorities will, as in every case, apply all applicable conventions. These conventions do not allow authorities to forcefully intercept boats transiting on high seas. Any interference with the right of passage would be considered as illegal interception. In his own tweet, Minister Salvini admits that the boats are not facing difficulties while navigating."

The government said it regretted the fact that once again the Italian authorities were resorting to unconventional tactics to try and circumvent their responsibilities. 

The spat came just 24 hours after the Maltese government hit out at Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte for 'false' statements about Malta before the Senate.

Mr Conte had been speaking about the 'Diciotti' case, where Italy also criticised Malta for not intercepting a migrants' boat before it headed for Italy. The migrants were eventually picked up by the Italian patrol craft Diciotti but Mr Salvini blocked their disembarkation in Italy for several days.

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