Hundreds of Koreans escape Libya

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Hundreds of Koreans escape Libya


A man holding an automatic machine gun poses in front of a tank in the east Libyan city of Al Bayda on Thursday. As the conflict in the North African country escalated to a level of civil war, South Koreans living there joined the exodus out of Libya. [YONHAP]

Hundreds of South Koreans joined throngs of foreign nationals fleeing Libya yesterday, as the conflict in the North African country escalated to a crisis level.

Seoul expected that almost half of the South Koreans in Libya could escape the country by this weekend - some by government-aided means, some by private arrangements. Still, others are opting to remain to safeguard expensive Korean corporate assets, alerting Seoul to every development unfolding in Libya.

An EgyptAir plane carrying about 200 Koreans left Tripoli, the capital of Libya, at 8:45 a.m. yesterday (3:45 p.m. Korean time) and arrived in Cairo, Egypt, two and a half hours later, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade said in a statement. Korean Air, the country’s largest airline, also sent a flight to Libya from Incheon International Airport yesterday at the request of the Korean government. It was scheduled to arrive at Tripoli International Airport at 6 p.m. yesterday local time and return to Incheon at 5:50 p.m. today Korean time. The plane is able to carry up to 330 people, and the government expected the plane to be full.

The ministry said it will send another chartered flight with some 300 seats to Surte in central Libya. EgyptAir agreed to arrange the charter, it said. “Because Surte is located between Tripoli and Benghazi, it’s not easy for people living there to evacuate through Tripoli and Benghazi,” said a Foreign Ministry official. At least 68 Koreans were in Surte as of yesterday, the official said. As of Thursday night, 1,069 South Koreans remained in Libya, and government and private evacuations were expected to reduce the number to 575 by the weekend, the ministry said.

The ministry said some of those still there, mostly employees of Korean companies operating businesses in Libya, were hoping to stay, citing the need to defend company property. In the worst case, they may have to resort to protection by the South Korean Navy destroyer Choi Young, Seoul officials said. The ship, dispatched in the waters near Somalia to deter piracy in the region, left for Libya on Thursday and is expected to reach the country early next month. The purpose of the destroyer’s redirection was to help evacuate Koreans if other options are limited, but protecting Koreans in case of grave danger is also being considered, a Foreign Ministry official said.

Meanwhile, Francois Zimeray, France’s top human rights envoy, said yesterday that it is possible that 2,000 Libyans have already died during the revolt.

“The question is not if Muammar el-Qaddafi will fall, but when,” Zimeray said.

South Korea is poised to upgrade its energy alert level and take nationwide conservation measures starting next week to deal with surging crude oil prices, triggered by political unrest in Libya.

By Moon Gwang-lip []

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