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Intervista di S.E. l’Ambasciatore Fabrizio Lobasso al giornale Sudan Vision 16 maggio 2016

Italian Ambassador to Khartoum: Sudan Loves Italy and Italy Loves Sudan

The relations between the Sudan and Italy date back to Kosh Kingdom and the Romanian Empire when they exchanged envoys and ambassadors besides trade exchange.
The contemporary Sudan has political, economic and cultural ties which fluctuated between warm and cool, sometimes severance according to the political circumstances in the two countries. The Sudan opened an embassy in Rome in 1956, upon independence, to take care of the Sudanese interests and to make firm the ties with Italy. In his first interview with Sudanow Magazine, the Italian Ambassador to Khartoum, His Excellency Fabrizio Lobasso, spoke about the bilateral relations between the two countries in various spheres. Excerpts

Q: First of all, Your Excellency, you are welcome to Sudan. Could you please comment of the recent remarkable resurgence in the Sudanese-Italian relations following a previous era of slackness?

A: Our relations existed in the past and is existing now in several fields. Politically, the Foreign ministers of the two countries met twice last year in Rome and in New York during meetings of the UN General Assembly. We have extended an invitation to Foreign Minister Ibrahim Ghandour for participation in an important conference to be held in Rome mid-May. We consider ourselves partners and supporters to the Sudan for achieving democracy and we also back the Sudan’s efforts for reaching a national accord. I can say that we are very close to the Sudan within the international community.
Economically, our relations are good but they need a further action. As you know, there are numerous obstacles like the international financial crisis and the US sanctions, for instance, which impede investment by Italian companies in Sudan. But still, we exert tremendous efforts, including the first economic conference in 2014 and also in 2015. The question is not easy, it requires more action. We seek to encourage and organize groups of Italian companies for investment in agro-industrial, animal resources and infrastructural fields. There are numerous opportunities of exportation between the two countries.
Culturally, we have numerous cultural activities in Sudan because we believe that the Sudanese people are fond of Italian culture such as painting, football and movie cinema and equally the Italian food and language. I think, after one year from my arrival in Khartoum, I have noticed that there are excellent relations between the two countries.

Q:-The Sudan occupies an excellent geographic position between the Arab and African region. How do you take this and does it play a role in development of the bilateral relations between the two countries?
A:-The African Continent is historically and culturally very close to us in Italy, take, for instance, our ties with Eritrea, Ethiopia and Somalia, even Libya. The existence of a strong and stable Sudan is important for us. If we consider the issue from a geopolitical angle, we have to note that the illegal migration has increased during the past three years. We all know that migration across the Mediterranean from Yemen, Syria, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Somalia and Sudan begins from Sudan and then proceeds to Niger, Libya or Egypt. For this reason the stability in Sudan is important to us and for this future importance we support it.

Q:-You have recently extended an invitation to Foreign Minister Ibrahim Ghandour for participation in an Afro-Italian conference to be held in Rome on mid-May. Could you please brief us on that conference?

A:-Yes. It is very important, though not an annual event but held from time to time. Italy grants top priority to the African countries, not for the migration or for political or economic reasons, but it is an important part of the world for the international community. The conference is held at the level of the foreign ministers of all African countries to discuss numerous issues, including politics, economy and cooperation in the fields of development. Most of the African countries are expected to take part in the conference.

Q:-Italy has joined the international community in efforts for peace in Sudan. What particular efforts are you playing to support the Sudan for achieving domestic stability and peace, especially in the states of Darfur?

A:- We are sincerely willing to contribute to resolving this problem but, unfortunately, our contribution to those efforts are very little. There are Italian civil organizations operating in Darfur in addition to the Italian emergency aid program. Most of our efforts are focused on a number of areas in Kassala and Gedaref, east Sudan, yet we are fully aware of the importance of Darfur to Sudan and therefore we back all the efforts which are made for reaching peace and finding an end to the conflict in that region.

Q:-How do you assess the national dialogue and its importance for restoration of peace and stability in Sudan and how do you assess the African role in this connection?

A:-Italy has recently announced within the European Union group of nations its support to the Sudan and to the Sudanese people with regard to the national dialogue which is an important process and which must be inclusive to include more participants. Personally, I believe that this is the right time for achieving peace, otherwise, it will never be achieved. The African Union exerts appreciable efforts, through its key mediator Thabo Mbeki. We closely follow and support the strenuous efforts which have long been exerted by Mbeki’s AUHIP for bringing all the Sudanese feuding parties to the negotiating table. All the Sudanese parties- the government as well as the opposition and the civil society organizations- have to join efforts for the success of the dialogue and for reaching peace.

Q: As you are member of the European Union, how do you view the relationship between the EU and the Sudan?

A: This relationship in naturally faced with some difficulties, but the two sides communicate with each other through dialogue and culture. What is important is that the dialogue is never disconnected and continues through democratic means. The relationship is irritating sometimes but there is constant dialogue. The important thing is that the EU supports all the Sudanese people for attaining peace.

Q:The Italian position towards the Sudan is generally balanced and positive compared with positions of some Western countries. Italy has plainly declared this positive and balanced position soon upon issuance of the decision by the so-called International Criminal Court (ICC) against President Omar al-Beshir in 2006. How do you evaluate what has happened?

A: Yes the ICC has issued this decision against President Beshir and there are efforts for implementing it. This situation must be settled in the future in one way or another. We wish that this problem would be resolved by reaching agreement by the two parties in the future.

Q: A remarkable development has recently occurred in the humanitarian cooperation between the Sudan and Italy and the Sudan is considered among the main countries south of the Sahara which receive 50% of the development and humanitarian assistance programs Italy annually allocates for the countries of the world. What efforts are you exerting in this connection?

A: As I have noted earlier, there is an appreciable coordination being made through the emergency program of the Italian cooperation in the affected regions. As regards the humanitarian aid and the food supplies, we are part of the EU and the international community and we respond as soon as the Sudan and the other parties permits access to South Kordofan, Blue Nile and Darfur regions for delivering aid to the needy people there. Moreover, our assistance is not confined to this aspect, but we seek, through the EU, to support the vulnerable segments in the society, like the children, the widows and the handicapped and in this Way we strike a balance between the fortunate person who has obtained something and the unfortunate who owns nothing.

Q: The economy plays a major role in relations between the countries and there is a recent rush by the Italian companies and businessmen for investment in various fields in Sudan. How do you assess the economic and commercial cooperation between the two countries? What means that can be adopted for enhancement of this cooperation?

A: As I have previously said, there are numerous opportunities which still remain unexplored in this fields of industry and trade. We have investments in the field of tourism in Port Sudan in east Sudan, Meroe and Kerimah in North Sudan. There are also Italian companies which have been operating in the field of construction for years. As regards the importation, there are many types of agricultural and industrial machines as well as food processing machines, especially those which produce ice-cream. I am sure that soon upon improvement of the situation in Sudan and lifting the US sanctions, there are many Italian companies which are interested in doing business in Sudan and will have a real and substantial presence here.

Q: A number of events reflecting Italian culture, including arts and sports, are witnessed these days. How can these functions help develop the relations between the peoples of Sudan and Italy?

A: Yes. Culture is sort of a big carnival; I believe it is a mainstay in building relations between the countries. The Sudan loves Italy and also Italy loves the Sudan. They have many things in common, for instance the two countries have long experienced variety of ethnicities which constitute a factor of integration and a bridge for contacts among individuals.

Q: You have recently conducted a questionnaire among the students of the University Of Khartoum on the Italian cultural aspects. What have you deduced from that survey?

A: Yes, we conducted that questionnaire last September to explore the options of the youths and what they prefer from the Italian products. The results were that some of them prefer the football, others like the Italian cooking or taste, some are fond of the Italian movie films and language and yet others love the Italian bicycles and motorcars. In this way we could know which aspects of the Italian culture do the Sudanese people like most.

Q: Is there a bilateral academic and training cooperation between Italy and the Sudan?
A: There is some sort of academic cooperation between the Italian Venice and Torino universities and the Sudanese Khartoum and the Future universities, but we look for more cooperation for more scholarships. For instance 10 Sudanese diplomats were sent to Rome last month for undergoing training courses for two weeks. A seminar has recently been organized on archeology in cooperation between the Future and Venice universities to which Italian experts and academics were invited. We are now holding consultations with the University of Khartoum for organization of more courses in the Italian language.

Q: Italy is famous for the Roman antiquities some of which was found in east Sudan a long time ago. Is there cooperation between the two countries to help Sudan make use of your experience in conservation of the antiquities?
A: Yes, there is a very close cooperation in this field which is very important to the Sudan as a tourist attraction. Archeologists from the universities of Naples, Venice and Milan visit the Sudan every year and they stay here for three months, holding seminars and touring the archeological sites in Merowe and Barkal. We have recently sent more information for activation of cooperation with Sudan.

Q: The human trafficking constitutes an obsession to both governments of Sudan and Italy for its numerous negative effects. How is the coordination process progressing between the two countries?
A: It is very important to coordination and cooperation between the two of us. We commend the role that has been played by the Sudan in recent years for fighting human trafficking through bilateral cooperation and enactment of deterrent laws.
Italy exerts a tremendous effort through cooperation with Sudan and with the EU group too. In this regard and during a visit to Sudan by the Italian Deputy Minister of the Interior, we held a seminar in the Sudanese Ministry of the Interior, traveled to Kassala where we visited the refugee camps. An agreement is presently being worked concluded between the Sudan and Italy on the border protection policies. We are now holding promising negotiations on this issue and we wish they will succeed. We are aware that it takes long and requires more joint efforts for eradication of this phenomenon which is dangerous and harmful to the humanity.