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Balkan Countries Prepare To Evacuate Citizens From Libya

Libyan protesters chant antigovernment slogans on a main square in Tobruk on February 22.

Libyan protesters chant antigovernment slogans on a main square in Tobruk on February 22.

SARAJEVO -- Officials have said the governments of Bosnia-Herzegovina, Croatia, and Serbia were preparing to evacuate their citizens from Libya, RFE/RL's Balkan Service reports.

More than half of the 1,500 Bosnians, half of the estimated 1,000 Serbians, and nearly all of the some 300 Croatians living in Libya had applied to their governments to be evacuated.

Workers from the Balkans are active in Libya due to a decades-long presence established by the government of former Yugoslavia. Most of the workers are engaged in construction, engineering, and food-processing businesses. Many Balkan nationals also work for international companies.

Serbia had hoped to start its evacuation on chartered flights late on February 22, while Bosnia was still awaiting permission for planes to land in Tripoli, the Libyan capital.

Bosnian Deputy Foreign Minister Zoran Perkovic told RFE/RL another option was for Bosnian workers to board Turkish ships, which were also awaiting permission to dock in Libya's second city, Benghazi, a hotspot of opposition to longtime leader Muammar Qaddafi.

Some Croatian workers had already returned home on regular flights and others were to follow today.

The managers of several Bosnian companies flew to Libya after the unrest started and some remained, trying to secure the evacuation of their workers and protect their assets.

Dzemail Vlahovljak, the general manger of engineering conglomerate Energoinvest, returned from Libya on February 21. He said he hoped the crisis ended soon.

"The value that we have there is in equipment and materials, but that is safe for now," he told RFE/RL. "The most important thing now is human lives, we will see about the rest later."