Saturday, March 5, 2011

Military flight evacuates more Canadians from Libya

Military flight evacuates more Canadians from Libya

A Canadian military Hercules transport, en route to pick up stranded oil workers, was turned back Tuesday, March 1, 2011 from Libya. A Canadian Hercules C-130J aircraft is shown at Kandahar Airfield in a January 2011 photo. (Steve Rennie / THE CANADIAN PRESS) 

OTTAWA — Ottawa has confirmed a military flight was able to pluck more Canadians and other foreign nationals from strife-torn Libya on Saturday.

A spokesman for Defence Minister Peter MacKay said the Canadian Forces plane flew in from Malta and landed "without incident."

"It's boarded a number of evacuees," Jay Paxton told The Canadian Press.

Canadian Forces officials were expected to confirm the number of Canadians and other foreign nationals airlifted out of the North African country once the plane landed in nearby Malta later Saturday, he said.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper's spokesman Dimitri Soudas tweeted about the evacuation effort earlier Saturday and boasted almost 330 Canadians have been pulled from Libya so far.

Canada's evacuation efforts have suffering a string of setbacks though. A military transport was denied landing rights in Libya last week and at least two civilian aircraft chartered by the Foreign Affairs Department left the north African country with no passengers in late February.

Many Canadians leaving Libya have done so aboard ships and planes belonging to other countries. But the government has defended its efforts saying it worked hard to secure the safety of its citizens by co-ordinating closely with its allies.

The Canadian air force has been sending planes into Libya over the past week, but getting landing permission has been a nightmare due to widespread confusion on the ground. The lack of an electronic link with the capital Tripoli has meant all landing rights requests must be faxed and often there are few people at the other end to collect the documents.

Canadians in Libya have been instructed to get to appropriate sea ports or airport evacuation points if they want to leave the country.

Unlike a few other countries, Canada has not proposed bold extraction missions to pluck its stranded citizens from the chaos.

The Netherlands tried to conduct such a mission this week, but it backfired with three Dutch marines captured by forces loyal to Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi.

Libya has been mired in chaos as Gadhafi loyalists clash with opposing rebels. Hundreds have been killed and tens of thousands have fled the violence.

The crisis in the country is already far worse than any of the other uprisings in the Arab world this year as Gadhafi has unleashed a violent crackdown on anyone who opposes him. His political foes have taken up arms in their attempt to remove him from the post he has held for 41 years.

Canada and other countries have condemned Gadhafi for his actions and have imposed a wide range of sanctions on the leader and his regime.

The Harper government has also sent a frigate to join an international flotilla gathering off the coast of Libya, but has implied the military buildup is for humanitarian relief purposes for the moment.

HMCS Charlottetown was dispatched on Wednesday. There have been suggestions it could be used for relief operations, but the frigate is not set up to carry much cargo.

Canada has also promised millions of dollars in humanitarian assistance to Libya, but it will be sent through non-governmental organizations, such as the International Committee of the Red Cross and the International Organization for Migration.