25 Feb 2011

Libya: Cameron vows to do ‘everything’ to evacuate Britons

Health and Social Care Editor

David Cameron has said the Government will do “everything we can” to rescue the remaining Britons stranded in Libya, as Victoria Macdonald reports.

Cameron returns to Britain to oversee Libya rescue effort - Reuters

The Prime Minister vowed to put on more flights if required and said the Government is sending a second Royal Navy ship, HMS York, to the waters off the North African state.

The Foreign Office said under 500 people were in Libya on Friday evening, and the majority were in the desert, where fears are growing for their safety.

Mr Cameron had cut short his Gulf tour to return to Britain, where he spoke by phone to Barack Obama about “holding the Libyan government accountable for its actions”. The pair agreed to work together closely on the continuing evacuation of foreign nationals and on an international response to the violence in Libya.

Speaking at Number 10 after chairing meetings of the National Security Council and Cobra emergency planning committee, Mr Cameron said: “We will do everything we can today and tomorrow to help those people and planning is under way to do just that.”

“In the last 24 hours there have been six flights that have left Libya and that is good, and there will be more on the way if necessary.

HMS Cumberland has now come out of Benghazi, bringing many, many British citizens out of Benghazi and we have also helped citizens of 25 other countries.

“I have also asked HMS York to go into the area and help out if necessary.

“But I would say that people do need to leave now and that is the message that I give very strongly to British citizens in Libya. For those in the desert, we will do everything we can and we are active on that right now to help get you out.”

“I have this very clear message for people in that regime – this warning for people in that regime – the world is watching you and the world will hold you to account.” David Cameron

Mr Cameron added: “The message is very clear: that the violence we have seen is appalling and unacceptable.

“I have this very clear message for people in that regime – this warning for people in that regime – the world is watching you and the world will hold you to account.

“Britain, through the United Nations, is pressing for asset seizures, for travel bans, for sanctions, for all of the things that we can do to hold those people to account, including investigating for potential crimes against humanity, or war crimes, or crimes against their people.

“People working for this regime should remember that international justice has a long reach and a long memory and they will be held to account for what they do.”


More than 500 Britons have been helped to leave Libya but up to another 500 remain stranded, the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) said.

Three charter flights have already returned to the UK carrying people fleeing the chaos-torn country and a fourth is due to take off from the Libyan capital Tripoli.

In addition, Royal Navy frigate HMS Cumberland rescued 207 people, including around 68 Britons, from Libya’s second city, Benghazi, on Thursday night.

The warship is taking them to Valetta in Malta, but treacherous weather and rough seas are hampering progress and it is not expected to arrive until late tonight or early tomorrow.

The FCO said it had helped a total of 600 people to leave on Friday, either directly helping them onto transport or with indirect assistance. It said the FCO had also helped citizens from a further 25 countries to leave Libya. A US ship with 49 British nationals on board has also left port in Tripoli.

There is particular concern for the scores of British oil workers stuck in the desert, at risk from attacks and looting. But some have made it out, including Richard Foscolo, who arrived home in Cardiff less than 24 hours after his wife, Angharad, had appeared on Thursday’s Channel 4 News, appealing for Government help in his evacuation.


The Foreign Office warned that Tripoli Airport was becoming more dangerous.

It said: “The security situation at the airport has been deteriorating in recent hours and the route to the airport is becoming more precarious. We continue to monitor the situation closely.

“We are also aware of 42 British nationals currently on a US ferry in Tripoli harbour. We recommend that they stay on board as the route to the airport is now unsafe. Consular staff are in contact with them.”

The FCO said it was ready to provide extra charter flights from Tripoli if needed and it is understood that the RAF is on standby to evacuate more Britons using military aircraft.

More than 1,000 calls have come in to the FCO in London over the past 24 hours from British nationals wanting to leave Libya and their families and colleagues in the UK.

International response

British officials were on Thursday working with Nato allies, in what the Defence Secretary, Liam Fox, described as an “international co-ordinated effort” to bring home the remaining foreigners stranded in remote camps.

Nato Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen said he was calling an emergency council meeting to discuss the situation in the ravaged north African country.

“I have convened an emergency meeting in the NATO council this afternoon to consult on this fast-moving situation. So I will return to Brussels in a few hours,” he said.

“Before I do so, I will meet with EU defence ministers and discuss with them how we in a pragmatic way can help those in need and limit the consequences of these events.”

He said priority must be given to evacuation and possibly humanitarian assistance.

“It’s a bit premature to go into specifics but it’s well-known that Nato has assets that can be used in a situation like this and Nato can act as an enabler and coordinator if and when individual member states want to take action,” he said.

The United States has suspended embassy operations in Libya and is moving forward with unilateral sanctions against the Government of Gaddafi, White House spokesman Jay Carney said on Friday. Carney told a news conference that Washington would also curtail its limited military cooperation with Libya and that the United States supports suspending Libya from the United Nations.

The UN itself, via its human rights council, condemned violence by Libyan forces against protesters and launched an international investigation into atrocities which it said may amount to crimes against humanity.

Libyan assets ‘to be seized’

Gaddafi’s sovereign wealth fund has around £20 billion in cash, and it has primary investments in London, a confidential diplomatic cable shows.

The cable, obtained by WikiLeaks and revealing the details of a January meeting between the head of the Libyan Investment Authority (LIA) and the US ambassador in Tripoli, comes as European and US governments explored the possibility of freezing assets belonging to the Libyan government.

The Daily Telegraph reports that UK-based funds and assets are expected to be seized within days.

The article says that the Treasury has set up a unit to trace Gaddafi’s assets in Britain, which are thought to include billions of dollars in bank accounts, commercial property and a £10 million mansion in London.