SHANGAI/BEIJING - China has evacuated 12,000, or about one third, of its citizens from turmoil in Libya, many of them workers for Chinese-run projects in the oil-rich nation, official media said on Friday.
The mass evacuation, supported by a Chinese naval frigate, is the latest test for a government that has encouraged firms to seek business across the developing world, often in conditions considered too difficult or poorly paid for Western firms.
Relieved workers arrived on a charter flight to Shanghai on Thursday. Some told Reuters they had been working at a university construction site in the eastern city of Tobruk that was attacked by armed looters.
Local staff told them to leave the increasingly dangerous conflict pitting opposition forces against long-time leader Muammar Gaddafi.
"We were lucky because we managed to rent eleven cars and all 83 of us got in with our luggage. Then we made our way to the Egyptian border," said 33-year-old construction worker Mao Yanjun.
China's Ministry of Commerce has said 75 Chinese companies have operations in Libya, including the state-owned energy giant CNPC, parent company of PetroChina Co Ltd.
"China has suffered large-scale direct economic losses in Libya, including looted work sites, burned and destroyed vehicles and tools, smashed office equipment and stolen cash," the ministry said in a statement on Thursday.
ROBBED BY GANGS
The statement said some Chinese had been injured but there were no reports of deaths.
Zhong Chenyun, a manager at Sinohydro, said he and his colleagues had been stranded and robbed.
"All I have left is what I am wearing. My personal and company goods that I brought to Libya were all robbed by gangs with weapons. Our safety could not be guaranteed," he said.
Nearly 1,000 Chinese crossed over into Tunisia on Wednesday, and a Maltese ship capable of carrying more than 2,000 people arrived to evacuate Chinese nationals from the port of Benghazi on Thursday. It is expected in Malta later on Friday, the state-run Xinhua news agency said.
In 2010, Chinese trade with Libya was worth $6.6 billion, a rise of 27 percent on 2009.
Vietnam said it had evacuated about 1,300 of its citizens from Libya out of 10,482 living and working there.
Vietnamese in unaffected areas of Libya would "try to continue to work and remain where the are", the state-run Vietnam News quoted the Minister of Labour, Invalids and Social Affairs on Friday as saying.
© 2013 Thomson/Reuters. All rights reserved.