China says still trying to evacuate workers from Iraq

BEIJING - China said on Thursday that it was still trying to evacuate a small number of Chinese workers from Iraq, and that it was closely coordinating with the Iraqi government to ensure their safety.

The state-run Beijing Youth Daily, citing unidentified sources, said that more than 1,000 workers for a Chinese machinery company were trapped at a power station and that the Iraqi army had turned some of them away as their bus approached Baghdad.

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said it was not true that Iraq was not helping with evacuations, though she declined to confirm or deny the report about the trapped workers.

There are more than 10,000 Chinese workers in Iraq and the"vast majority" are in safe areas, with only a small number in more dangerous parts of the country, Hua told a daily news briefing. "We are closely coordinating with the Iraqi side to provide security guarantees for the evacuation of these people and ensure that the relevant evacuations can go smoothly," she said.

"The coordination and communication between China's embassy in Iraq and the Iraqi government and army is smooth. Our embassy in Iraq is in close touch with the relevant Iraqi bodies to ensure workers at Chinese companies can safety, smoothly and in a timely way be evacuated to safe places," Hua added.

"Because of security considerations, our first consideration is to ensure these people can be evacuated in a timely manner. I'm sorry but I cannot give any other details." PetroChina, the single biggest investor in Iraq's oil sector, has said that it 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.

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.

China has repeatedly expressed concern 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.