Tripoli, Libya: Irish Government – LOOSE THE BOTTLE – Leave For Home – Leaving 21 Citizens Stranded Amid Armed Uprising

26 Feb

IRISH GOVERNMENT LOOSE THE BOTTLE AND LEAVE 21 CITIZENS STRANDED IN LIBYA:

Q+A - How U.S. financial sanctions on Libya might ...

A six-person emergency civil assistance team led by Ireland’s Ambassador to Rome, Pat Hennessy left Tripoli this (Friday) evening.

In a statement, the Department of Foreign Affairs said the crisis team was leaving Tripoli for Malta on a Canadian evacuation flight tonight in light of the sharply deteriorating security situation and the fact that no Irish citizens remained at the airport or were known to be travelling to the airport. The situation will be reassessed in the morning. Members of the consular team and Air Corps aircraft will remain in Malta for deployment to Tripoli as necessary.

The Department said 21 Irish people remain in Tripoli. All Irish people who were at Tripoli airport today were accommodated on outgoing flights.

The12 Irish people who were in Benghazi were all evacuated by sea today.

Efforts were made by the team on the ground in Tripoli and by the Department’s crisis centre in Dublin to contact all remaining citizens reported to be in Tripoli. It is likely that a number of these have already left. Of those contacted, a small number indicated a desire to leave but said that they were unwilling or unable to risk travelling to the airport.

Meanwhile, arrangements are being put in place tomorrow for the Air Corps to fly to Dublin tomorrow with a number of citizens who were evacuated by sea from Libya to Malta today.

At this stage, a small number of Irish citizens remain in desert areas of the country. These are mostly employees of foreign companies. The Department is working with the companies and EU partners to
ensure that they are included in evacuation arrangements.

Taoiseach Brian Cowen said the Government is doing everything possible to help the Irish citizens.

“We’re doing everything we can, it’s quite a chaotic situation in Tripoli at the moment,” he said after voting in Tullamore today. “It’s a very troubling situation, it’s very worrying and concerning situation. We’re waiting for the safe return of Irish citizens and we are continuing all our efforts.”

While Tripoli remained largely locked down yesterday, pro-Gadafy militiamen and African mercenaries raided homes, making arrests, and took bodies from hospital morgues.

However, Col Gadafy’s hold on cities and towns around the capital came under challenge, with disturbances and protests reported in many areas. The southern oil fields were reported to be under rebel control. Gadafy loyalists opened fire on anti-government protesters in Tripoli today, killing at least four people.

The Air Corps’ 25-seater CASA landed at Tripoli airport on Wednesday night, but officers on board were not allowed to disembark or make contact with the Irish waiting in the terminal.

Irish people had been gathering in the terminal from early morning in anticipation of the flight. At one stage, they boarded a bus and went out on to the tarmac to find the aircraft after British foreign office representatives told them it was waiting, but it had already left.

At a press briefing yesterday, Peadar Carpenter, co-ordinator of the emergency crisis centre in the Department of Foreign Affairs in Dublin, said the officers did not have pre-entry clearance when they landed and were unable to negotiate visas. They were not allowed to use phones, he said, and could not contact anyone.

“They stayed there for four or five hours trying to negotiate and to see if they could get any change, but despite all their best efforts they could not get agreement to even go into the airport terminal to talk to our citizens,” Mr Carpenter said.

What had happened was “very, very regretful”, he said. The problem was that Ireland did not have a presence on the ground in Libya.

Secretary General of the department David Cooney complimented his staff’s hard work and said he was very pleased with how they had approached the crisis.

When there was no embassy on the ground, they couldn’t be there “to hold people’s hands”, he said. “The best advice we can give them is to try to get out on a commercial flight and be careful.”

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THE Department of Foreign Affairs is facing growing criticism over its botched evacuation of Irish citizens from Libya, after it emerged it has failed to contact all of those still trapped in the chaotic scenes.

As the North African country descends further into anarchy and has become the subject of US sanctions threats, a department spokesperson last night confirmed 21 Irish people remain stranded in the capital, Tripoli.

While 12 citizens who were based in the eastern opposition-controlled city of Benghazi were all evacuated by sea yesterday, six more continue to face genuine danger in other parts of the country.

Of these six, only three are the subject of current rescue plans.

As the crisis — which has also trapped an estimated 3,600 EU citizens in Libya and led to hundreds of deaths — became the subject of increased UN and US discussions over a possible international response, Irish officials attempting to bring citizens to safety were forced to leave again last night.

Three members of the Department of Foreign Affairs emergency consular assistance team travelled to Tripoli airport yesterday morning to identify Irish people seeking to escape.

However, after setting up inside the airport they made a decision to leave on board a Canadian flight for Malta last night because there was no indication any Irish people were at the airport.

The officials are due to return to Tripoli again today.

A spokesperson said “it is likely” an unknown number of Irish people still in Libya may have been able to leave, but said some of those contacted who need help are “unwilling or unable to risk travelling to the airport”.

The department’s response to the situation has been heavily criticised by a number of Irish who fled from the Libyan crisis, with some saying they were advised to book flights online, use their common sense, or travel to tourist agencies to obtain tickets out of the chaos.

This was despite those who fled the country insisting the internet had been blocked and it was unsafe to travel to tourist agencies.

However, speaking on RTÉ News, Marie Cross, assistant secretary of the Department of Foreign Affairs, said everything that could be done was being done to help those seeking rescue.

The row emerged as reports said Libyan government forces in Tripoli shot dead two more protesters of Muammar Gaddafi’s regime.

Al Jazeera television said two people had been killed and several wounded in heavy shooting in several districts. Another channel, Al Arabiya, said seven people had been killed.

Gaddafi was also shown on Libyan state television last night apparently addressing tens of thousands of supporters massed on Tripoli’s Green Square.

“We will fight if they want,” he said, gesturing from a high stone wall.

“We are ready to triumph over the enemy. We will defeat any foreign attempt, as we have defeated Italian colonialism and American raids.”

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