Cyprus plea for help on evacuees

story.frenchevac.ap.gifThe foreign minister, George Lillikas, asked for financial help from European countries to help the island cope with the influx.

The European Union said Saturday it was sending a team to Cyprus to help speed up the transport of foreign evacuees to their home countries.

“We’re doing our best,” Lillikas told AP Television News during an early morning visit to the port of Larnaca, where dozens of boats carrying evacuees from Lebanon have arrived since Monday.

“We had about 20,000 to 25,000 people until now, and we are expecting that number to triple. That is why we need assistance from Europe,” he said.

Earlier this week, the government asked other European Union countries to provide planes to help evacuees travel to their home nations.

Cyprus is in the middle of its peak tourist season and the sudden influx has strained its hotels. Larnaca airport has been packed with people and its runways busy with planes ferrying evacuees home.

Officials said Friday that the country had enough food, medicine and accommodation for the evacuees so far, but that more planes were needed.

“Offering assistance to European citizens is the first priority to us,” Lillikas said. “We want to use European money to provide evacuation services for all people in Lebanon who want to leave Lebanon.”

About 25,000 foreigners have fled Lebanon since fighting began last week between Israel and Hezbollah guerrillas. Most of them have come through the tiny island of Cyprus, staying for the most part for a few hours only before being flown to their home countries.

Asked whether Cyprus might consider turning boats away, Lillikas replied: “It depends on the capacity we have. So I hope we will not be in this difficult dilemma.”

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