Italy won't be blackmailed over fishermen held in Libya - govt

Italy won't be blackmailed over fishermen held in Libya - govt

Italy will not bow to "blackmail" to secure the release of 18 fishermen being held by authorities in Benghazi, eastern Libya, since 1 September, foreign minister Luigi Di Maio said on Wednesday.

"Italy won't allow any blackmail concerning our compatriots - they must return home," Di Maio told Radio24.

Di Maio said the government must work with "great care" to resolve the case of the fishermen from Sicily's Mazara del Vallo fleet, who were seized by warlord Khalifa Haftar's forces some 30 miles north of Benghazi for allegedly entering Libyan coastal waters.

"We need to be perfectly coordinated because this work requires great care," Di Maio said.

Haftar is said to have demanded that four Libyan footballers who were arrested in Italy in 2015 and jailed on human trafficking charges are released in exchange for the fishermen's freedom.

Di Maio had a conference call on Tuesday with Mazara del Vallo's mayor, with the fishermen's families and the owners of their two boats, in which he underlined government's commitment to ending the standoff.

As part of Italy's diplomatic efforts to free the fishermen, Di Maio held phone talks this week with United Arab Emirates foreign minister Abdullah bin Zayed Al Nahyan and with Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov.