By Jonathan Isaby
"As of now we have successfully removed around 600 British nationals from Libya. The evacuation has centred on three locations – Tripoli airport, the port at Benghazi and the desert oil fields. At Tripoli airport, a series of six aircraft organised by the Foreign Office and an RAF C130 Hercules flight have brought out more than 380 British nationals and a similar number of foreign citizens. At Benghazi, HMS Cumberland has carried out two evacuations from the port, taking out 119 British nationals and 303 foreign citizens. The first of these evacuations took place in very difficult sea conditions. The second arrived in Malta earlier today.
"These evacuations were assisted on the ground by 5 rapid deployment teams, in total nearly 30 extra staff from the Foreign Office, who helped marshall British citizens in the midst of chaotic scenes in and around the airports and ports. The most challenging part of the evacuation has of course involved those British nationals scattered across over 20 different locations in the oil fields deep in the desert.
"On Friday evening I authorized a military operation to bring as many as possible out of the desert. On Saturday, two RAF C130 aircraft flew into the Eastern desert and picked up 74 British nationals and 102 foreign nationals at three different locations. A second mission took place yesterday, bringing out a further 21 British nationals and 168 foreign nationals.
"On this second mission, one of the aircraft involved suffered minor damage from small arms fire. This underlines the challenging environment in which the aircraft were operating. Indeed Britain has taken on a leading role in coordinating the international evacuation effort. Our AWACS aircraft are directing international aircraft involved. And Brigadier Bashall, who is commanding the operation, has established a temporary joint headquarters in Malta. I have thanked the Maltese Prime Minister personally on behalf of the country. Not for the first time in our history, Mr Speaker, we must pay tribute to Malta and her people."
He added that fewer than 150 Britons now remained in Libya and that HMS Cumberland and HMS York will remain in the area, ready off Tripoli to to assist if necessary, with military aircraft including C130s and a 146 in Malta ready to fly in at very short notice.
On the wider issue of Gaddafi's remaining in power, he said:
"We should be clear. For the future of Libya and its people, Colonel Gaddafi’s regime must end and he must leave. To that end we are taking every step possible to isolate the Gaddafi regime, deprive it of money, shrink its power and ensure that anyone responsible for abuses in Libya will be held to account. With respect to all these actions, Britain is taking a lead.
"Over the weekend, we secured agreement for a UN Security Council Resolution which we had drafted and which is unusually strong, unanimous and includes all of our proposals. It condemns Gaddafi’s actions, and imposes a travel ban and assets freeze on those at the top of his murderous regime. It demands an immediate end to the violence and the killing of protesters, access for international human rights monitors, lifting of restrictions on the internet and media and an end to the intimidation and detention of journalists. And it refers Libya’s current leaders to the International Criminal Court to face the justice they deserve.
"Mr Speaker, we were also the driving force behind a Special Session of the UN Human Rights Council on Friday, which started work to eject Libya from the Council. And the Foreign Secretary is in Geneva today, along with US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, to see this work through.
"With our European partners, we have today secured agreement on freezing the assets of a wider group of individuals and banning them from entering the European Union. And also imposing a wider arms embargo on the Libyan regime. Britain is also leading in implementing these direct measures against the regime.
"I can tell the House today that here in the UK a Special Privy Council session was held yesterday, as a result of which we have now frozen the assets of Gaddafi, five of his family members, people acting for them or on their behalf, and entities that are owned or controlled by them.
"The Treasury has stepped in to block a shipment of some £900m in banknotes destined for Libya. The Government has revoked Colonel Gaddafi’s immunity as a Head of State and neither he nor his family may freely enter the UK any more. And we have also revoked the visas of a number of Libyans linked to the regime who are now on immigration watch-lists."