Tunisia-bound French warship leaves empty-handed

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A French warship sent to evacuate nearly a thousand Egyptian refugees fleeing Libya arrived Monday at Tunisia's Zarzis port only to find they had already left, a naval officer said.

The hi-tech Mistral helicopter-carrier had left Saturday from the southern port of Toulon to repatriate around 900 Egyptians who had crossed into Tunisia from Libya and bring them to the Egyptian port of Alexandria.

Soon after the ship dropped anchor however, spokesman for the French navy Lieutenant Thierry Delorme announced that it would "not be taking" refugees and would be leaving in the same day.

Most of the Egyptians had already left by plane, impatient to reach their homeland in just three hours as opposed to a boat ride that would take them three days, he added.

US military planes repatriated 640 Egyptians over the weekend, as part of an international effort to deliver refugees from unrest in Libya

European countries and the United States on Thursday began airlifting more than 40,000 Egyptians who had fled Libya for Tunisia, to avoid chaos and epidemics spreading at makeshift camps on the border.

The French ship was equipped with 28 doctors as well as 69 beds, according to chief doctor Loic Lemesle. It was also loaded with medical supplies, food and water to help the United Nations refugee agency and the Red Crescent.

The amphibious Mistral is the French Navy's first all-electric warship. It helped evacuate foreign nationals from Lebanon during its war with Israel in 2006.

© 2011 AFP

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