All Indians to be evacuated from Libya by March 10 (Lead)

March 4th, 2011 - 7:59 pm ICT by IANS  

Bharatiya Janata Party New Delhi, March 4 (IANS) Underlining that the safety of Indian nationals is the topmost priority, the government Friday informed parliament that 9,209 Indian nationals - over half of total Indians stranded in strife-torn Libya - will be evacuated by the end of the day and promised to wrap up the entire exercise by March 10.

“By the end of the day today (Friday), 9,209 Indian nationals would have been evacuated out of Libya, including 1,450 out of Tripoli and Sehba by Air India flights,” Minister of State for External Affairs Preneet Kaur told Rajya Sabha.

“We expect to complete the exercise of evacuating all those desirous of leaving Libya by March 10,” Kaur said, adding that some Indian nationals have opted to stay on Libya.

“The first special flight of Air India left Libya Feb 26. Since then, an air bridge has been established between Tripoli and Delhi,” the minister told parliament.

India last week began the evacuation operation - the biggest mounted by the country after the August 1990 Iraqi invasion of Kuwait that forced thousands of Indians in the country to flee to Amman, the Jordan capital, from where they were flown home.

Earlier, Rajya Sabha Deputy Chairman K. Rahman Khan had directed the government to make a statement on the evacuation of Indian citizens from Libya in view of the concern expressed by members about delays.

The deputy chairman said the government should make a statement by Monday. However, several members, including those from the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), demanded an early reply.

The situation in Libya has worsened as forces loyal to Muammar Gaddafi have launched fierce counter attacks against pro-democracy protesters in several cities.

Providing an update to the parliament on multi-pronged efforts by the government entitled “Operation Safe Homecoming,” Kaur said that when External Affairs Minister S.M. Krishna spoke to his Libyan counterpart March 2, the latter assured that all Libyan authorities concerned would extend every possible assistance for this purpose.

Amid criticism from some quarters about the relatively slow pace of India’s evacuation efforts in comparison with those of other countries like the US and China, Kaur underlined that the security of Indian nationals and their safe return was the government’s foremost priority.

“Despite considerable logistical challenges the government has put in place a well coordinated operation ‘Safe Home Coming’ to bring home our nationals in the quickest and safest manner possible,” she said.

The minister stressed that the government was paying for the evacuation and was assisting them in their safe and orderly return.

Since the first Air India’s special flight from Libya Feb 26, the Indian government has intensified efforts to clear out its citizens from the north African country which has been hit by unprecedented protests rooting for the ouster of Gaddafi.

A passenger ship, Scotia Prince, has ferried 1,188 Indians from Benghazi to Alexandria in Egypt from where they arrived in Mumbai and Delhi by special flights Thursday and early Friday.

“The ship returned from Alexandria last night at 11.30 pm to Benghazi, from where we are coordinating the transport of another 1,150 Indians back home via Alexandria. The ship will dock at Benghazi early Saturday,” she said.

Another passenger ship, Red Star One, is also on its way to Misurata and Sirte to ferry Indians to Malta from where special flights are being arranged out of Valletta to bring them back.

“An air bridge is also being put in place from Friday night between Sehba and India and we hope to evacuate about 2000 Indian nationals from there over the next 5 days, Kaur said.

Kaur also informed parliament that an Indian Air Force IL 76 aircraft has been stationed in Cairo to undertake possible evacuation operations from Libya.

A second IL 76 aircraft has also been put on readiness to be dispatched as and when the need arises, she said.

Two ships of the Indian Navy - INS Jalashwa and INS Mysore - are en route and are expected to be in the region by March 8 to assist in the evacuation operations of any Indians that might still be in the coastal towns of Libya, Kaur said.

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