* Swiss row with Libya has impacted most of Europe
* Malta suggests temporary visas for blacklisted Libyans
* Aims to discuss with EU foreign ministers next week
VALLETTA, March 16 (Reuters) - Malta has suggested a way fellow European Union countries might get around a travel ban on a list of Libyans, imposed by Switzerland, which is causing a major diplomatic rift with the energy rich North African state.
In a letter released to the media on Tuesday, Foreign Minister Tonio Borg asked Italy, Spain, France and Portugal to join Malta in issuing special temporary visas to Libyan travellers while the standoff persists.
“While Malta, along with the EU partners, continues to be actively involved in efforts to try and find a solution to the current visa problem, an urgent interim solution is necessary” Borg said in his letter.
By issuing so-called Limited Territorial Validity (LTV) visas, the countries would bypass a blacklist of 188 top Libyan officials issued by Switzerland which led to Libya stopping entry to all travellers from the Schengen area — a border-free zone encompassing most of western Europe.
The travel ban is part of a dispute which dates back to July 2008 when a son of Libya’s leader Muammar Gaddafi was arrested briefly in Geneva. The Swiss blacklist means it must be applied by all countries in the Schengen area.
In his letter, Borg cited sections of the Schengen agreement which says countries may issue LTV visas “when the member state concerned considers it necessary on humanitarian grounds, for reasons of national interest or because of international obligations.”
“Given the exceptional circumstances that our citizens find themselves in when being denied access to Libya, Malta is proposing cooperation between us in the form of mutual consent for each one of us to be able to issue LTV visas which will be valid for all our territories,” Borg said.
He referred to talks he held in Tripoli last week with the Libyan prime minister said it seemed evident that Libya would consider the issuing of such limited Schengen visas as “satisfactory”.
Borg said he would raise the issue at an EU foreign ministers’ meeting on Monday.
Earlier this month, Libya’s top oil official told Reuters that European countries should remember that their energy firms have interests in the country and that good diplomatic relations were necessary for business.
Last week Libya signalled the end of a diplomatic row with the United States, which also had appeared to threaten the interests of energy companies. Tripoli said it accepted an apology for acerbic comments made by a U.S. official. (Reporting by Christopher Scicluna; Editing by Robin Pomeroy)