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Sunday, August 21, 2011     INTELLIGENCE BRIEFING

Stranded foreigners heading for the exits as rebels advance on Tripoli

LONDON — Thousands of foreigners were preparing to flee Libya as NATO-backed rebels closed in on Tripoli.


Up to one million foreigners were said to be stranded in Tripoli and areas held by the regime of Libyan Col. Moammar Gadhafi. The foreigners, most of them Egyptians, were said to be in panic as rebels were advancing on the Libyan capital and cut all ground links with outside world.

"We have a very limited window of opportunity to carry out this operation because of the fighting." International Organization for Migration spokeswoman Jemini Pandya said. "We are looking at all options available, but it will probably have to be by sea."

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In an Aug. 19 briefing in Geneva, Ms. Pandya said IOM would begin an evacuation of the foreigners in Tripoli over the next few days. She said Tripoli has been under siege by the rebel advance from the west and south.

Relief workers said Libya contains up to 2.5 million foreigners, of which 600,000 fled during the civil war in the North African state. They said at least 100,000 remain in Tripoli, many of whom were believed to be working for the Gadhafi regime.

"A rapid response on this is critical to ensuring that in the small window of opportunity we have to get people out of Tripoli, we are not constrained by funding issues," IOM regional director Pasquale Lupoli said.

IOM said it has evacuated 8,300 foreigners as well as injured Libyans from the rebel-held port of Misrata. The organization chartered a second ship, which left Misrata on Aug. 19.

A day later, Libyan rebels captured the coastal city of Zawiya, located 50 kilometers west of Tripoli and which contains the nation's largest oil refinery. At the same time, NATO reported the sinking of a boat that was transporting Gadhafi troops from Zawiya.

"IOM is working on evacuating growing numbers of migrants in the Libyan capital who are trapped because of the fighting on the western front, who are increasingly vulnerable and now want to leave," Ms. Pandya said. We have to address the highly complex logistical, political and security challenges. It is clear that this is going to be a difficult as well as a special operation."

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