China preparing to evacuate some workers from Iraq

BEIJING, June 19 Thu Jun 19, 2014 5:21am EDT

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BEIJING, June 19 (Reuters) - China said on Thursday it was preparing to help evacuate a small number of people working for Chinese companies in Iraq, and repeated an offer to help Iraq fight terrorism though it declined to say if it would provide military support.

The vast majority of the 10,000 workers are in safe parts of the country, but the small number in unsafe parts are being evacuated, ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying told a daily briefing.

"For those workers in Chinese companies who are in areas with a more serious security situation we will fully help them evacuate to safe areas," Hua said, without giving numbers or details of which companies they work for.

She said China's embassy in Iraq and embassies in neighbouring countries were requesting help for entry and exit formalities, though she would not elaborate on how many would actually be leaving Iraq.

PetroChina, the single biggest investor in Iraq's oil sector, is pulling some of its staff out of the country but production was unaffected as militant Islamists threaten the unity of OPEC's second-largest producer, a company official said.

China is Iraq's largest oil client, and its state energy firms, which also include Sinopec Group and CNOOC Ltd, together hold more than a fifth of Iraq's oil projects after securing some of its fields through auctions in 2009.

Hua said China was deeply worried about the upsurge in violence in Iraq and the march of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, which has seized much of the north of the country as Baghdad's forces there collapsed.

"Terrorism is a shared threat faced by all countries and the international community has a joint responsibility to combat it and has a shared interest in maintaining Iraq's security and stability and should provide help and support for Iraq's rebuilding and fighting of terrorism," Hua said.

"China is willing to keep providing what aid it can in accordance with Iraq's actual needs for its rebuilding and fighting of terrorism," Hua added, declining comment on whether Iraq had made any specific request for help.

"As for whether there will be military intervention, we will, as we have always, provide what help we can in accordance with our own situation and the principles we have always upheld," she said, without elaborating.

China has long upheld the principle of non-interference in the internal affairs of other countries and has not, in recent decades, sent military forces to directly intervene in foreign crises, though its military does participate in U.N. peace keeping operations and anti-piracy patrols off Somalia. (Reporting by Ben Blanchard; Editing by Robert Birsel)

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