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S. Korea ready to pull last people out of Libya

Destroyer on standby near Egypt


South Korea is ready to pull out all of its nationals from Libya if necessary after examining safety conditions, an official here said Monday as allied forces launch powerful strikes against the Libyan leader’s military.

To assist the possible mass evacuation of Korean nationals to neighboring states, Seoul’s 4,500-ton destroyer Choi Young has been on standby off the coast of Egypt since Sunday.

The embassy in Libya is currently viewing whether the safety of 118 Koreans currently residing in the northern African state can be guaranteed, ready to evacuate anyone in danger, Vice Foreign Minister Min Dong-seok said during an emergently convened government-party meeting Monday.

The situation in Libya has been turning more tense as its leader Moammar Gadhafi has vowed a “long war,” refusing to surrender to the jubilant rebels now backed by the powerful U.S.-led allied forces.

“The safety conditions of all 118 people will be thoroughly examined to determine whether or not to permit their stay in Libya,” Min said during the meeting with ruling Grand National Party lawmakers.

Issuing a one-month travel ban to all regions of Libya, Seoul has been forbidding any more of its people from entering the country.

“The minimum number of people necessary to protect our facilities in Libya will remain there, but any one who appears to be in danger will be ordered to immediately return home,” Min added. “We are also reinforcing evacuation facilities within Libya.”

Evacuation plans have also been set up to evacuate those near the western Tripoli region to Tunisia, those in Benghazi to Egypt and those in the central region via the destroyer on standby, the deputy minister added.

Destroyer Choi Young of South Korea’s Cheonghae Unit is currently on standby near Egypt for another possible rescue operation following the March 3 evacuation of 32 South Koreans from Tripoli to Malta and the March 14 mission for another five Koreans from Libya to Greece.

The dispatch of the destroyer, however, is not related to the allied forces’ military action against Gadhafi and only intended to help protect its people, Seoul has said over the weekend.

A number of South Korean construction sites fell victim to the violent protests that engulfed Libya in the recent months, with a number of its workers getting hurt.

By Shin Hae-in (hayney@heraldcorp.com)
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