Oil workers focus of Libya efforts

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Libyan protesters shout slogans against leader Moammar Gaddafi (AP)

British officials are drawing up plans with Nato allies to rescue hundreds of international oil workers stranded in camps in the Libyan desert.

With an SAS contingent reportedly on stand-by to assist, Defence Secretary Liam Fox said there would be an “international co-ordinated effort” to extract the workers left at the mercy of armed gangs roaming the area.

As the first British nationals to be evacuated from the strife-torn North African state began arriving home, David Cameron said he was “extremely sorry” for the delays to the rescue operation and promised lessons would be learned.

The Prime Minister, who is returning from his trip to the Gulf, will on Friday chair back-to-back meetings of the National Security Council and the Cobra emergencies committee in an attempt to reassert control after days of apparent drift in Whitehall.

The White House said US President Barack Obama would be calling Mr Cameron and French President Nicholas Sarkozy to discuss possible international measures to compel the Libyan regime to end the violence against the protesters.

A Foreign Office-chartered flight carrying 177 adults and four children, which left Tripoli before stopping at Malta, landed at Gatwick, while 79 more passengers landed on an aircraft chartered by BP.

Some 68 UK citizens left Libya’s second city, Benghazi, on the Royal Navy frigate HMS Cumberland, which is taking them to Valetta in Malta, where they will pick up flights back to the UK.

However, the main focus of concern was increasingly the oil workers – including an estimated 170 Britons – stranded in camps in the desert.

Dr Fox – who discussed the situation with Nato secretary general Anders Fogh Rasmussen – said that they were looking at a “range of options” with international allies to get them out.

He added: “What we will decide as an international co-ordinated effort is that we will all want to get our citizens out of harm’s way. We may be taking out citizens of other countries, other countries may be taking out UK citizens. The better we have it co-ordinated and de-conflicted, the better the chances of success. That is what we will be doing, I imagine, through the night tonight and over the weekend.”

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