(February 22, Chennai, Sri Lanka Guardian) Resentment over the comfortable life-style of foreigners working in Libyan projects as compared to the poverty of Libyan workers seems to be playing a role in the current turmoil in Libya. This resentment has led to a number of attacks on South Korean and Chinese companies in Libya.
Even before the unrest began in Egypt, there were reports of attacks on South Korean construction sites. On January 14 and 15, hundreds of Libyans raided four South Korean-run construction sites, destroying heavy equipment and setting vehicles and other facilities on fire. According to the South Korean Foreign Ministry, on February 21, about 500 Libyans stormed and looted a South Korean construction site west of Tripoli, injuring South Korean and Bangladeshi workers.It said about 15 Bangladeshis were hurt along with three South Koreans when the mob invaded the site about 30 kilometres west of Tripoli. Two of the Bangladeshis were seriously injured with stab wounds. After some time, the Libyans left the site, where 1600 Bangladeshis are reportedly working. It is not known whether the attacks on the Bangladeshis were motivated by economic reasons or by anger over reports of the Libyan Army using Pakistani and Bangladeshi mercenaries for crushing the uprising.
On February 17/18,about 200 Libyans in the eastern coastal town of Darnah invaded a South Korean-run construction site and set fire to a dormitory for Korean workers. According to the South Korean Foreign Ministry, the offices of some South Korean companies were looted on February 19. The Ministry said there are currently about 1,400 South Koreans in the country.
The February 22 issue of the "China Daily" has carried the following report of the Xinhua, the official news agency, datelined February 22, Tripoli:
"Several Chinese companies in Libya have been attacked and looted, but no casualties were reported yet, a Chinese worker here said Monday (February 21).
"A construction site run by Huafeng Construction Co., Ltd. from China's Zhejiang Province was looted by a group of armed gangsters Sunday afternoon in the eastern city of Agedabia, and nearly 1,000 Chinese workers there were forced out of the site and became homeless, said Yuan Canhua, a Chinese living in the suburb of Tripoli, capital city of Libya.
"The Chinese worker said one of the robbed construction workers phoned him after the looting.
"The construction workers then left the city on foot and were trying to walk towards Tripoli hundreds of kilometers away, hoping to catch a plane here to fly back to China, he said.
"Staff at the headquarters of the company in Zhejiang Province in south China said Monday the workers in Libya had been transferred to a safe place.
"Some Chinese workers here said nearly all Chinese companies in the country were "attacked or looted." But Chinese companies were not the sole target of the series of lootings in Libya. Several South Korean-run construction sites were also looted.
"Also on Monday, China's Ministry of Commerce urged Chinese businesses in Libya to pay increased attention to their security and suggested Chinese businessmen planning to visit Libya postpone their plans for the time being."
( The writer is Additional Secretary (retd), Cabinet Secretariat, Govt. of India, New Delhi, and, presently, Director, Institute For Topical Studies, Chennai, and Associate of the Chennai Centre For China Studies. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org )