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Thais in Libya to be flown back home

Fighting rages around Tripoli airport; about 1,500 to return over coming days

Thailand decided yesterday to evacuate all of its nationals in war-torn Libya after the fighting intensified and many countries, including the United States, relocated their citizens and closed their diplomatic missions.

Nuttavudh Pothisaro, deputy permanent secretary of the Foreign Ministry, said junta chief General Prayuth Chan-ocha chaired a meeting of agencies and ordered the return of about 1,500 Thais within 48 hours for their safety.

The first batch of 41, comprising 11 students and 30 Thais living around the Tripoli airport that was closed down because of the fighting, will be moved out in 48 hours because they live in the most risky area, Nuttavudh said. The second group will be 70 Thais living in Al-Bayda city near Benghazi while the last group will comprise 1,500. All of them will be transferred by land out of the country.

They would move to Tunis and Djerba in Tunisia and stay there before travelling back to Thailand due to the deteriorating situation, he said.

Kittipong Na Ranong, the Thai ambassador to Libya, has reported that fighting will continue and grow worse.

The area that is a risk to life is Tripoli where the 11 students and 30 other Thais are staying, so they would be the first group to be repatriated.

A team of four Foreign Ministry officials, two employment officials and two military medics will be sent to take care of the Thais.

Egypt and several Western countries have urged their nationals to leave Libya amid spiralling violence after two weeks of fighting left 97 people dead and a warning by state-owned National Oil Corp of a major disaster after a fuel tank was hit.

The US closed its embassy in Libya on Saturday and evacuated the mission's staff under military guard in what the US State Department said was a response to escalating violence in the Libyan capital, Tripoli.

Weeks of heavy fighting between rival Libyan militias for control of Tripoli International Airport had edged closer to the heavily fortified embassy, which is on the main road to the airport. The clashes have all but destroyed the airport, severely limiting air travel to Libya.

The Thai Foreign Ministry will closely evaluate the developments in Libya before shutting the embassy in Tripoli or withdrawing personnel. Some mission staff and families have already left the country.

The deputy permanent secretary for the Labour Ministry will meet placement agencies that sent Thais to work in Libya to discuss measures to help them when they come back home. An operations centre set up at the Foreign Ministry's South Asian Department to help Thais leaving Libya will start work today.

The Philippines has withdrawn all its "non-core" embassy staff in Tripoli to Tunisia "due to the increasing violence and lawlessness" in the Libyan capital.

The Philippines' Foreign Affairs Department said only "male officers and staff augmented by the rapid response teams" would remain in Tripoli to oversee the mandatory evacuation of some 13,000 Filipinos. The Philippines ordered the evacuation after it received reports that a Filipino construction worker abducted on July 15 was beheaded by militants waging a bloody civil war in Libya.

Jukr Boonlong, the Thai ambassador to Israel, said 65 of 500 Thai workers living within 20 kilometres of the embattled Gaza Strip have given notice of their desire to move out of the zone. Seven Thai workers have returned home and 13 others moved from the risky areas. Thirty more were due to move out yesterday, he said.

Last week a Thai worker was killed when a mortar shell landed near where he was staying in Israel. His remains arrived in Thailand yesterday.


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