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Merchant ship sets off for Indians in Libya

New Delhi, Feb. 23: An Indian merchant ship will tomorrow begin New Delhi’s efforts to evacuate 18,000 Indians living in strife-torn Libya.

Foreign minister S.M. Krishna told the Rajya Sabha this evening that a ship with the Indian flag was in Egyptian waters and on its way to Tripoli to start the evacuation. He said the government would not charge money from the Indians it would evacuate from Libya.

A high-level inter-ministerial meeting decided to evacuate Indian nationals via the sea route. The government through its mission in Libya will continue to explore the possibility of evacuating Indians living in southern Libyan towns via air and land routes.

The present plan is to escort Indians living in Tripoli to its port from where the ship — with a capacity to ferry 800 passengers — will take them to Alexandria in Egypt. Air India planes will fly them back to India.

The ship may also stop at Benghazi — depending on clearances — to evacuate 3,000 Indians living in that city. Sources said the government was busy identifying more Indian ships in the region that could be deployed for the purpose.

Krishna said in Parliament the government was closely monitoring the situation in Libya, Yemen and Bahrain. There are about 3.5 lakh Indians in Bahrain and 14,000 in Yemen.

Krishna said New Delhi had evacuated 670 Indians from Cairo at their request. “This was not ‘evacuation’ and the government only facilitated arrangement of the special flights of Air India to Cairo which brought back Indians desirous of returning to India,” he said, indicating that the government was justified in charging air fare from these people.

Foreign secretary Nirupama Rao said the Indian ambassador in Tripoli was busy seeking the necessary permissions that would allow the Indian ship to dock at the Tripoli port.

She said access to the eastern coast of Libya would be relatively quick and less difficult from Egypt. “Our ambassador is in touch with our nurses in Benghazi. Regular civilian flights are still operating into and out of Tripoli, I understand,” Rao said.

The Indian ambassador “is also in touch with our Indian community in smaller Libyan cities”, the foreign secretary said. Some 1,000 Indians are stranded in the southern Libyan city of Kufra. The government hopes to airlift them once it gets the permission to land its aircraft.

According to reports, over 300 people have been killed so far in the brutal crackdown on protesters demanding an end to Muammar Gaddafi’s four-decade-old rule.

India yesterday deplored the use of force by Libyan authorities against anti-government protesters.

State-owned Oil India Limited is also trying to evacuate its personnel from Libya.

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