Sushma Swaraj, Oomen Chandy Spar Over Libya Evacuation Expenses

12/05/2016 8:53 PM IST | Updated 15/07/2016 8:26 AM IST
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MOSCOW, RUSSIA - APRIL 18: Foreign Minister of India Sushma Swaraj during the 14th Russia-India-China (RIC) meeting of foreign ministers on April, 18, 2016 in Moscow, Russia. (Photo by Pyotr Kassin/Kommersant Photo via Getty Images)

Amidst the fierce electoral battle in Kerala, a war of words broke out between Chief Minister Oommen Chandy and External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj on Thursday for taking credit for the evacuation of 29 Indians from war-torn Libya.

The political fight errupted a day after Prime Minister Narendra Modi said his government has evacuated the families from Libya and that the Centre was committed to work for welfare of Indians living abroad. Kerala goes to polls on May 16.

Modi is already under mounting attack from the Opposition parties for his controversial comment in an election rally comparing Kerala and Somalia while talking about the infant mortality rate among tribals in the state.

A total of 29 Indians have been evacuated from Libya out of which 16 are from Kerala and they reached Kochi this morning.

"Mr.Chandy - We evacuated thousands of Indians from Kerala from Iraq, Libya and Yemen. Who paid for them?

"Mr.Chandy - You said 'Kerala paid for 29 Indians evacuated from Libya,'" Swaraj said in a series of tweets.

The External Affairs Minister, who is recuperating in AIIMS where she was admitted on April 25, blamed Chandy for triggering the debate.

In a seething response, Swaraj tried putting the controversy to rest by saying Chandy started the whole debate and the union government was just doing its duty of evacuating its citizens in trouble.

"Mr.Chandy - You started this debate - as to Who paid ? Not me. We always did this because this is our pious duty towards our citizens," the tweet said.

Earlier, Chandy said the State government is bearing the travel expense of the families, indicating that the Centre had not extended the financial assistance for their travel.

"Sushma Swaraj paid for the earlier evacuations. This time we are paying for their travel," Chandy said.

In an election rally, Modi had yesterday said "Our government has saved six families and evacuated 29 people. The Indian government is committed to working for people who go abroad to work, we have always tried to help them. It gives me immense pleasure and happiness to tell you that they are coming back and will be united with their families soon," Modi said.

When asked about the controversy, External Affairs Ministry Spokesperson Vikas Swarup said the Indian Mission there was in constant touch with the authorities and it was because of the embassy's intervention that the Indians got their salaries and were issued exit visas.

"Our embassy has constantly followed up the matter with the hospital as well as with the Ministry of Health of Libya...Our ambassador personally flew down to Tripoli on April 28 and met with the Chief of Protocol on May 2 to resolve the matter.

"Thanks to the embassy's intervention that their salaries were paid and their exit visas were issued and they were able to safely return to India today," he said.

The Indian Embassy in Libya has been relocated to Djerba in Tunisia because of escalation in violence in Libya.

(With PTI inputs)

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