Harrowing tales as over 500 Indians return from Libya (Fourth Lead)

Sunday, February 27, 2011

NEW DELHI - The dawn of Sunday brought more than 500 Indians here from Libya with tales of suffering and killings in the strife-torn country. Some said they had gone without food and water and vowed never to return.

Relieved family members hugged and kissed those who flew in on two Air India flights. Almost all those who escaped from the turmoil in Libya left behind all their assets and jobs.

Minister of State for External Affairs E. Ahamed and Foreign Secretary Nirupama Rao received the evacuated Indians at the airport.

The first flight, a Boeing 737, carried 291 Indians and the second, an Airbus A330, had 237 on board. While the Boeing landed at about midnight, the second came around 4.10 a.m.

Most of those who flew in Sunday were from Tripoli and had been the first to reach the Indian embassy in the Libyan capital. They admitted that most of the trouble was outside Tripoli.

Sajjan Lal, a doctor, said many Indians underwent agony in the last few days, with even water and food supplies being snapped in the turmoil that has seen anti-government protests and the regime of Muammar Gaddafi hitting back. Over 1,000 people are reported to have been killed in the violence.

“There was no water to drink, no food supply,” Lal told reporters.

Another Indian, Mohammed Sali, said he and some other Indians did not have anything to eat for four or five days. “Somehow we escaped” the rampaging mobs, he said.

Another woman who did not give her name insisted she would never go back to Libya, even if peace returned to the country.

Sunday’s flights are the first in a series meant to evacuate some 18,000 Indians in Libya, which has seen massive anti-Gaddafi protests since the middle of February.

Opposition groups have taken over some cities and have vowed to bring down Gaddafi, who has ruled Libya since 1969.

“The trouble was mainly outside Tripoli. We were not involved in the trouble but feared it could affect us in Tripoli in the near future,” said one of the passengers.

Minister Ahamed said arrangements had been made to help the returning Indians reach their hometowns at government cost.

Rao said she visited the airport to receive “our citizens”.

Officials said the Indians who flew home were provided food and allowed to telephone their families.

Meanwhile, three Indian Navy ships have sailed to Libya to help in the evacuation of the Indians.

The external affairs ministry said a passenger ship, now in the Mediterranean Sea, had been chartered for evacuation and was expected to reach Benghazi Monday.

INS Jalashwa and INS Mysore have medical facilities on board, including operation theatres, doctors and paramedical staff. They set sail from Mumbai. The ships are also carrying helicopters and Special Forces personnel.

Another ship, INS Aditya, is accompanying the rescue ships to provide them logistics support.

The ships will evacuate Indians from Libya to either Malta or Egypt, from where they will be transferred by air to India. The rescue fleet is expected to reach Libya in 10 days, an official said.

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