Tripoli, 16 January 2013:
Following the attack on the Italian Consul-General in Benghazi, Guido de Sanctis, on Saturday, the Italian authorities have temporarily shut the Consulate-General but say they hope to have it open again as soon as possible.
“We plan to reopen it as soon as we possibly can and are absolutely confident the Libyan authorities will increase security for our consulate-general and staff”, Italian Ambassador Guiseppe Buccino Grimaldi said today, Wednesday.
Some dozen staff work at the consulate, including three full-time Italian diplomats in addition to the Consul-General. It is the only EU consulate in Benghazi, apart from the Maltese, and the only from a NATO member other than Turkey.
Neither Malta nor Turkey are seen as a potential targets for militants.
Until Saturday’s attack, about 30 percent of Libyan applications for Italian visas were being made in Benghazi. The closure will mean that people there, will for the time being have to apply for visas to Tripoli.
Guido de Sanctis himself was already planning to leave, having been appointed some weeks ago as Italy’s new ambassador in Doha.
“In recognition of the excellent work he has done in Libya — he was the first Western diplomat to go to Benghazi in March 2011 and fostered what became an excellent relationship with the local authorities and local people — he has been appointed Italian ambassador to Qatar”, Buccino Grimaldi said.
“Given the importance Italy attaches to Libya and to the Consulate-General in Benghazi, another prominent diplomat has been appointed and will be in Libya soon”, he added.
As almost the sole Western diplomat in Benghazi and one who had been there since nearly the start of the revolution, de Sanctis made something of a name for himself in the city, aided in no small way by his somewhat unorthodox first-time arrival there — in a rubber boat. It gave him the image of a diplomat-adventurer.
The affection for him was on show yesterday, Tuesday, when dozens of local residents gathered outside the Consulate-General to protest at the attack. Apologies to him personally were on several of the placards carried by demonstrators — who also called on the government to take tough action to ensure there was security and stability in the city.
There have been reports in the wake of the attack on de Sanctis that the Libyan government has decided to set up a special diplomatic protection force. However, this is not seen as imminent by diplomats in Tripoli. “It’s a good idea”, said one, “but it had been suggested before. So far it’s just a idea being floating around.”
Meanwhile, the three Italian staff working in Benghazi are expected to be briefly redeployed to Tripoli to help cope with the anticipated extra workload there.