Libya unrest: 68 Indians land in Mumbai, 3,000 more on the way (Intro Night Lead)

March 1st, 2011 - 12:11 am ICT by IANS  

Mumbai/New Delhi, Feb 28 (IANS) With India intensifying Operation Safe Homecoming, around 3,000 Indians are expected to be evacuated by two chartered ships in the next few days as a third batch of 68 landed in Mumbai from strife-torn Libya in a Gulf Air flight Monday and around 600 were coming on two special Air India flights early Tuesday.”All 68 Indian nationals who had crossed over to Salloum (Egypt) reached Mumbai by GF-056 this morning (Monday),” the external affairs ministry said in New Delhi.

“Both the special Air India flights from Tripoli - Airbus A-330 and Boeing 747 - are on their way back to Terminal 2, Indira Gandhi International Airport, New Delhi,” it said later Monday.

The Airbus A-330, carrying 266 passengers is expected to land around 1.30 a.m. and the Boeing 747, with 331 passengers, at around 4.50 a.m., it said.

Meanwhile, another 18 more Indians were expected to cross over to Salloum (Egypt) by Monday evening, an update said, adding they would be similarly received and sent to Cairo for taking commercial flights back to India.

A help desk at the airport at Mumbai has been set up by the Ministry of Overseas Indian Affairs (MOIA), in coordination with the Maharashtra government and other state governments, to render all assistance to the passengers, including for further travel to their hometowns.

Giving an update on Operation Safe Homecoming, a multi-pronged operation the Indian government has launched to evacuate most of 18,000 Indians stranded in Libya, Foreign Secretary Nirupama Rao said the government has so far evacuated nearly 1,000 Indians from the violence-torn oil-rich north African country.

Some 1,200 people would be evacuated anytime now by an Indian ship which would dock at the Libyan port city of Benghazi Monday, she said.

In the largest such exercise mounted by India since the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait in 1990, the ministry said that Indian officials were proceeding to Sicily in Italy to speed up arrangements for passenger ship La Superba’s journey to Benghazi.

“Up to 3,000 Indian nationals, including 400 who have travelled across from Al Kufrah by road, will be evacuated by Scotia Prince and La Superba,” the ministry said. Scotia Prince is understood to have reached Benghazi around 3 p.m. (local time) Monday and will return to Alexandria Wednesday.

Rajiva Misra, India’s ambassador to Slovakia, has reached Malta to set up yet another base camp for organising ship shuttles between Libya and Malta. An air bridge is also proposed to be set up between Malta and India to bring home Indian nationals.

India has also sought the permission from the Libyan authorities to fly its aircraft to the southwestern city of Sabha to evacuate Indian nationals stranded there.

India’s ambassador to Libya (Mani Mecklai) has sought permission to land aircraft in southwestern city of Sabha, Nirupama Rao told reporters on the sidelines of a function in New Delhi.

Around 1,000 people, including Indian doctors and their families, are said to be residing in Sabha, located around 1,200 km from Libyan capital Tripoli, and had requested the Indian government to make arrangements for their evacuation from the airport in central Libya.

Rao added that Indians stranded in the interiors of Libya were finding it difficult to travel to major cities to catch flights back home.

“They are unable to travel since there are no trains in Libya and travel by road is apparently not safe. Therefore, our ambassador in Tripoli has sought permission to land our aircraft at Sabha.”

With the fresh arrivals, the total number of Indians who have returned from Libya, where the revolt against the Muammar Gaddafi government has turned violent and claimed over 1,000 lives so far, has reached around 600.

The first flight, a Boeing 747, carrying 291 Indian nationals, arrived in New Delhi around on Saturday midnight. The second batch of 237 evacuated passengers, who were picked from Libyan capital Tripoli, arrived in an Airbus A330 on Sunday morning.

Another 82 Indians, who crossed over to Salloum late Sunday evening, are being being taken to Cairo and are expected to leave by a Gulf Air flight (GF-056) via Bahrain Tuesday, so as to reach Mumbai Wednesday at 5.05 a.m.

The land route to Ras Jedir (Tunisia) is being put to good use by Indian nationals.

According to the latest information, 378 individuals have already crossed over from Libya. The Indian embassy officials received them and assisted with their onward movement to and stay at Djerba (Tunisia). A special Air India flight is proposed to be pressed into service to fly them back to India.

Many of over 500 who returned from Libya Sunday had harrowing tales of suffering and killings to tell in the strife-torn country. Some said they had gone without food and water for days and vowed never to return.

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