South Block is “cautiously optimistic” about the release of the two Indian teachers, T Gopikrishna and K Balram, abducted by a group claiming allegiance to the Islamic State. New Delhi’s lone diplomat — along with some staff — in Tripoli is trying, through local contacts and officials at the Sirte University, to ensure their release.
“They are alive and the mission is trying its best to get them released at the earliest. We are cautiously optimistic,” said a government source. He added that there has been no demand for ransom so far.
While charge d’affaires Mohammad Rashid Khan is the only Indian diplomat in Tripoli, the Indian ambassador to Libya, Azar A H Khan, is about 300 kilometres away in D’jerba — an island in Tunisia — where the Indian embassy relocated last year. Still, the Indian embassy — with the help of local contacts in Sirte University — was able to get Laxmikant Ramakrishna, 37, from Raichur and Mulbagil Vijay Kumar, 56 from Bengaluru, released on Friday.
According to sources, they reached the Indian embassy in Tripoli on Friday night and met Rashid Khan. They are expected to leave for Tunis on Sunday, and will be flying back to India from there.
“With the help of Lakshmikant Ramakrishna and Mulbagil Vijay Kumar, we have been able to get some information and idea about the captors. That has been helpful as they have briefed us on the location and the nature of the captors and our contacts are working the phones, on the basis of that information,” said a diplomat.
It turns out that Gopikrishna, an assistant professor in computer science, and Balram, an assistant professor in English, were among the hundreds of Indians evacuated from Libya last August. However, they left for Sirte in September after classes resumed at the university, their family members said on Friday.
All four Indians worked for the Sirte University in northern Libya and had planned to travel by car to Tripoli airport, fly to Tunis in neighbouring Tunisia and onward to New Delhi or Mumbai. But they were “detained” at a checkpoint on Wednesday night, about 50 km from Sirte, in an area that is believed to be under the IS control, officials said.
“The fact that the Indian ambassador has been moved away from Tripoli to Tunisia should be a signal to all Indians that the place is not safe to live and work, but still there are about 2,000 Indians living there,” said a source, citing the advisories issued by the Indian embassy.
Before the conflict in Libya, the Indian population there was estimated to be about 18,000 — the professionals were mostly engaged in hospitals and teaching institutions, while the others were engaged in construction projects. Most of them were evacuated to India in February-March 2011.
In early 2014, the number of Indians was down to about 6,000. In June 2014, as there were armed conflicts in Tripoli, Benghazi and other parts of Libya, 3,592 Indians were sent back.