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(2nd LD) Warship with 32 S. Korean evacuees from Libya arrives in Malta

All Headlines 16:00 March 04, 2011

(ATTN: UPDATES with arrival, quotes in first nine paras; AMENDS headline)

SEOUL, March 4 (Yonhap) -- A South Korean warship carrying 32 Korean nationals evacuated from Libya arrived in Malta on Friday, Seoul's defense ministry said, with some evacuees expressing relief to be pulled out of the turmoil-battered country.

The 4,500-ton destroyer Choi Young docked at the Maltese port of Valletta around 4 p.m. on Friday (Korean time), and the Korean nationals will be sent to Rome, the capital of Italy, to board a flight for South Korea, ministry officials said.

"After safely transporting them to Malta, the Choi Young will be on standby outside the port of Tripoli to support further evacuation efforts," said ministry spokesman Kim Min-seok.

All of the 32 Koreans, including three women and three elementary school students, were healthy, although some suffered slight seasickness during the 16-hour journey from the port of Tripoli, according to the ministry. They are expected to arrive in South Korea on Saturday night.

Lee In-sool, the 72-year-old vice president at a South Korean construction firm in Tripoli, recounted the horrors of the fighting between protesters and government forces there.

"I'm so glad to safely get out of Tripoli," Lee said in a ministry-arranged telephone interview with the Defense Ministry press corps.

"When I was on the way to the Tripoli port, the situation was dangerous with government and anti-government forces engaging in gun battles and fighter jets swooping over the sky," Lee said.

Capt. Cho Young-joo, head of the destroyer Choi Young, said his troops will use all means available to pull the remaining Koreans out of Libya. Most of them are employees of Korean construction companies building plants and houses.

"All members of the Choi Young are always committed to protecting our nationals and property," Cho said.

The warship had been stationed in waters near Somalia for anti-piracy operations before being dispatched to Libya.

Hundreds of South Koreans have left Libya by air and land over the past week as clashes between anti-government protesters and forces loyal to the country's leader, Moammar Gadhafi, intensify. The clashes are believed to have left hundreds of people dead and thousands injured.

Officials said almost all South Koreans wishing to leave Libya would be evacuated as early as this weekend. About 100 people still want to remain in the country, though the number could change if the situation worsens, they said.


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