Some thirty South Africans evacuated from Libya landed at Air Force Base Waterkloof in Pretoria just after 11pm last night, the Department of International Relations and Cooperation says. The chartered Boeing 767 left South Africa on Saturday for Malta and landed in Tripoli yesterday to pick up the entire embassy staff and other stranded nationals. The plane took off or South Africa around 3pm.
“They are all quite happy to be here and many of them are reuniting with their families,” said DIRCO deputy director general or public affairs Clayson Monyela. Ten non-South Africans were also evacuated and arrived with them at Waterkloof. They included a British national and nine citizens of Botswana, Swaziland, Lesotho, and Mozambique. “Some of them were working there and others were students,” said Monyela.
DIRCO yesterday decided to evacuate the entire South African embassy in Libya, after having announced, earlier last week, that “a core group of dedicated officials under the leadership of Ambassador Mohammed Dangor shall remain in place.” Monyela says over the weekend the department became “gravely concerned about their circumstances and there was a security concern. Our decision was to get them out as their safety was our main priority.”
Libya has been in a state of armed chaos since a massive revolt erupted n February 15 against the rule of long-time strongman Moammar Gadhafi. The Libyan leader lost control of the east of his country soon after the eruption of protests against his rule. Reports at the time spoke of fighters and helicopter gunships firing on crowds, warships shelling the Cyrenaican capital city of Benghazi and alleged “African mercenaries” indiscriminately killing civilians.
Reuters reports rebels in Benghazi have now created a national council and have pledged to support those still fighting Gadhafi’s rule in Tripoli. It adds a general, who has mutinied against Gadhafi, says his forces stand ready to help rebels fighting in Tripoli if called on to do so, but he rejected any need for foreign assistance. “Our brothers in Tripoli say: “We are fine so far, we do not need help’. If they ask for help we are ready to move,” said General Ahmed el-Gatrani, one of most senior figures in the army in Benghazi which no longer swears allegiance to Gaddafi.
Deputy IRCO minister Ebrahim Ebrahim Tuesday condemned the use of force in Libya. Addressing a media briefing by the International Cooperation, Trade and Security Cluster of Cabinet, he said “… of course we have always condemned the use of force against peaceful demonstrations and against civilian population no matter where it takes place. In this whole uprising of demonstration that took place in the Middle East we have always been of the view that these demonstrations were peaceful and whatever problems there are it should be resolved peacefully.”
Close to 20 other countries are also in the process of evacuating their citizens, by land, sea and air, with or without Tripoli’s consent. The Chinese state new agency reports some 29 000 Chinese have been evacuated and that a frigate, which had been on an anti-piracy escort mission in the Gulf of Aden, has passed through Egypt’s Suez Canal into the Mediterranean Sea overnight to provide support and protection for the ships evacuating Chinese nationals from Libya.
Britain yesterday used three military transport planes to evacuate 150 civilians from sites in the Libyan desert. Defence miniter Liam Fox said they included people from Britain and other countries who had been stranded in Libya following the uprising against Muammar Gaddafi’s 41-year-old rule. “Three Royal Air Force C130 Hercules aircraft have successfully evacuated around a further 150 civilians from multiple locations in the eastern Libyan desert,” Fox said in a statement carried by Reuters. A British navy frigate, HMS Cumberland, had set sail from Malta after making a second visit to the Libyan port of Benghazi where it picked up about 200 civilians from various countries including about 50 British nationals, Fox added. The destroyer HMS York is also headed for the area. The day before, two British military transport planes flew into Libya without Libyan permission and picked up about 150 foreign oil workers from the eastern desert in an operation said to have involved special forces. One of the RAF Hercules aircraft appeared to have suffered minor damage from small arms fire, Fox added.
The rescues took place at the same time as a similar secret mission by the German Luftwaffe to evacuate 132 people from the desert using two German military aircraft. Military sources have said Germany is also sending three ships to the Libyan coast to help evacuate German citizens, namely the supply vessel “Berlin” and the frigates “Brandenburg” and “Rheinland-Pfalz”, with about 600 soldiers aboard. They were at the weekend anchored off Valetta, Malta.
Italy has also evacuated 1400 Italians from Libya, some by warship, which also rescued 28 Croatian workers from Benghazi. Greek passenger ships have carried several thousand Chinese as well as Greeks, Brazilians, Filipinos, Thais, Portuguese, Dutch and Britons to Piraeus, near Athens and Heraklion on the island of Crete. Russians, Romanians, Ukrainians and Italians were on the latter vessels.
India has evacuated some 530 nationals by air and Ireland is sending its Air Corps to fly back to Dublin Eire citizens who were evacuated by sea from Libya to Malta the day before. Nigeria’s National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA) said it planned to evacuate 2000 of its stranded nationals, the first 499 of whom arrived back in the capital Abuja aboard a chartered Boeing 747 on Sunday. The government has set up a special camp in Abuja to accomodate the returnees, who will be screened for valid documentation before being discharged. NEMA said elderly, women and children were among the passengers as well as a few convicts who were handed over to the Nigerian embassy in Tripoli. NEMA Director-General Muhammad Sani-Sidi told Reuters it was a voluntary evacuation and that the 2000 were Nigerians who had registered a desire to leave with their embassy. He estimated the overall Nigerian population in Libya at 10 000.
Romania’s Foreign Ministry said on Saturday 270 citizens had been evacuated from Libya. Another 50 are being evacuated by air and 44 more by sea. A chartered plane carrying about 200 South Koreans took off from Tripoli on Friday, while a Spanish armed forces plane carrying 124 people evacuated from Tripoli, landed in Madrid on Friday. The evacuees included 40 Spaniards as well as Mexican, British, Canadian and Portuguese nationals.
Syria has also sent vessels to pick up Syrian nationals from different areas in Libya, in addition to continuing its flights to Tripoli. Minister of Transport Yarub Badr said two ships have been sent so far. Tunisia had at least 30 000 nationals in Libya when the revolt started. At least 7000 have been able to leave. Tunisia sent five flights to Libya on Wednesday and two before that. Tunisia has further scheduled a ferry to travel to Benghazi.
Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu said on Saturday that Turkey had evacuated 14 776 people, including 579 foreigners, while Vietnam has evacuated about 1300 of its citizens from Libya out of 10 482 living and working there. The United States has also evacuated some 1300 nationals.