Pakistan sends plane, frigate to evacuate citizens from Yemen

ISLAMABAD (AFP) - Pakistan has sent a jumbo jet and a naval frigate to evacuate its citizens and diplomatic staff stranded in war-torn Yemen, as Saudi-led air strikes hammered Shi'ite Houthi rebel targets, officials said Sunday.

"A 747 aircraft of PIA (Pakistan International Airlines) is on its way to Hodeidah and expected to land at 3.30 pm (6.30pm Singapore time)," the company's spokesman Hanif Rana told AFP.

A second, smaller plane with a capacity of 230 passengers was also being kept on stand by in Pakistan, he said.

Pakistan's ambassador to Yemen Irfan Shami told state television that 482 Pakistanis will be evacuated on the first flight.

A frigate had also been sent to assist.

"A Pakistan navy frigate today left Karachi to rescue stranded Pakistanis in Yemen," a naval spokesman told AFP.

The frigate will remain on stand-by in the Gulf of Aden with full preparedness and, if the need arose, will participate in the evacuations, he said.

Pakistani Foreign Secretary Aizaz Ahmad Chaudhry said late Saturday that around 3,000 Pakistanis lived in Yemen with some 1,000 trying to leave the country.

A convoy of 16 buses was carrying stranded Pakistanis from the capital of Sanaa to Hodeidah, he said, while some remained stranded in the southern government stronghold of Aden and were awaiting a lull in the fighting so they too could be rescued.

Restating Islamabad's staunch support for the Gulf kingdom, Chaudhry said a Pakistani delegation would soon leave for Riyadh, but rejected reports that the country would join the Saudi-led coalition bombing mission.

Pakistan is a longstanding ally of Saudi Arabia with close military ties, but Islamabad has not yet committed to the operation, which has drawn strong criticism from its neighbour Iran, the major Shi'ite Muslim power.

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