Irish Aid to fund major Misrata evacuation in Libya
IRISH authorities are to stage an emergency evacuation of 1,000 people from the besieged Libyan city of Misrata.
The city is the third largest in Libya and has been under intense fire by forces loyal to president Muammar Gaddafi for almost eight weeks.
Humanitarian group International Organisation for Migration (IOM) will arrange the emergency mission by chartered ship.
Irish Aid is putting up €300,000 to fund the mission and another €200,000 to support the evacuees when the boat arrives at the rebel stronghold of Benghazi, where the refugees will have sanctuary.
Tanaiste and Foreign Affairs Minister Eamon Gilmore said the Government felt a responsibility to act.
"Gaddafi's forces have agreed to allow ships into the port to evacuate civilians and we have requested that the IOM undertake an emergency operation on our behalf.
"Irish Aid officials have been in close contact with them over the last few days, putting in place the necessary measures for the mission to take place."
Last week, the United Nations estimated that at least 20 children have been killed thus far.
The IOM has already carried out three rescue missions, funded by Britain, Germany and the European Commission, but it is not yet known when the latest attempt will take place.
The €500,000 sum brings total Irish support for the IOM operation on Libya's border to €1m.
Meanwhile, a convoy of vans from Ireland packed to the brim with medical necessities and baby food will travel more than 5,000km overland to provide humanitarian relief to the war-torn country.
The convoy was set up by the Libyan Social Solidarity Association in Dublin along with journalism students from Griffith College.
Dr Faheem Bukhatwa, a lecturer in the college, is affected by the Libyan fighting more than most.
At the early stages of the demonstrations his nephew Aiman was shot and killed while demonstrating in Benghazi. He was just 24 at the time.
Another sister of Mr Bukhatwa is now living in the besieged city of Tripoli.
He said that the children in Libya are hit hardest.
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The convoy will leave on April 24 and return on May 8.
Amnesty International Ireland (AII) welcomed news of the evacuation.
"With civilian casualties in Misrata mounting day by day the decision announced today will help save lives and the Government deserves immense credit for its actions," Colm O'Gorman, executive director of AII, said.
Elsewhere, US Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton condemned Gaddafi's "inhumanity", and revealed: "Col Gaddafi's troops continue their vicious attacks, including the siege of Misrata.
"There are even reports that Gaddafi forces may have used cluster bombs against their own people."