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Air and sea evacuation from Libya
- Planes and ships ready for rescue

New Delhi, Feb. 25: Two commando-protected naval ships will leave for trouble-torn Libya tomorrow, while two Air India planes will fly daily to Tripoli for 10 days to bring home the estimated 18,000 Indians there.

The navy’s Jalashwa and Mysore are expected to take 11 days to reach Alexandria in Egypt, which neighbours Libya, the government said this evening.

A merchant vessel has also been chartered. This is in addition to Scotia Prince, which is on way to Libya and likely to reach Benghazi, one of the worst hit by the bloodletting, on February 28 to evacuate 1,200 people. From Benghazi, the group will be brought to Alexandria on March 2 and flown home by special flights.

External affairs minister S.M. Krishna said the two flights had been given clearance to operate by the Libyan authorities.

“As per the schedule given by Air India, two flights per day from tomorrow to March 7 will be operated,” he added. The Libyan government has been requested to extend the clearance if the evacuation isn’t over within that time.

Amid the rush, Krishna’s ministry denied reports that the Indians in distress were being asked to pay for their journey back home.

“Some unscrupulous elements are asking for payments/handling charges/facilitation fee for arranging evacuation of Indian nationals through the embassy of India in Libya. These activities are completely illegal and individuals engaged in them should be immediately reported to the law enforcement authorities,” the external affairs ministry said in a statement.

The release sought to allay concerns of the families of those stuck by asserting that “no payment or charge of any kind is being levied by the government for the evacuation/assisted departure of any Indian national in Libya”.

The air and sea evacuation plans came amid reports of Indians desperately trying to flee Libya. However, there are still up to 3,000 Indians stranded in southern Libyan towns. Foreign secretary Nirupama Rao assured relatives of Indians stuck in the region that the government was doing its best to help them.

“Sebha is in the interior. Our planes need clearance,” Rao said, referring to a troubled town in the southwest where an estimated 2,000 Indians are said to be stuck.

Some are being brought out through Tunisia, to the west of Libya. “The evacuation of some of our company workers (Indians working on Libyan projects) and staff in Libya is taking place via Tunisia,” Rao said.

Late tonight, ministry sources said some 200 Indian nationals had fled Tobruk, another of the trouble-torn Libyan towns in the east of the country, and were likely to cross over to Egypt by road. They will be flown back from Cairo. The Egyptian government has agreed to facilitate issue of transit visas on arrival at the border.

The first two Air India planes for Tripoli will leave early tomorrow and return late in the evening. A Boeing 747, with a capacity of 360 passengers, will take off from Mumbai. An Airbus 330, which can carry 280, will leave from Delhi.

The planes will be allowed to halt at the Tripoli airport for three hours. The flight time is eight to ten hours. Officials of Indian embassy are in touch with Indian community associations and will be at the airport to help in the evacuation. An Indian Air Force IL-76 has been kept on standby in Delhi.

The defence ministry issued a statement suggesting the navy vessels were suitable for evacuation missions. “INS Jalashwa, a landing platform dock-type of amphibious platform, is capable of undertaking humanitarian missions. INS Mysore, is a potent destroyer. The ships have been specially equipped for the task with full medical facilities such as operation theatre, doctors and paramedics,” said a defence ministry statement.

The ships carry six helicopters, armoured cars and are manned by the Marine Special Forces personnel, an elite commando squad.

In July 2006, the navy evacuated over 2,500 Indians, and some foreigners from Lebanon following the war between Israel and the Hezbollah.

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