updated 7/19/2007 8:19:31 PM ET 2007-07-20T00:19:31

Denmark has secretly evacuated about 200 Iraqi civilians from southern Iraq under an asylum agreement offered to interpreters and aides who worked for Danish troops, a Defense Ministry spokesman said Friday.

The last of three Danish military planes carrying the Iraqi aides and their families took off before dawn Friday from Basra, ministry spokesman Jacob Winther told The Associated Press. The two previous planes arrived in Denmark earlier this week.

The flights were kept secret because of fears that militants would try to attack the planes, Winther said. He revealed the operation to the AP only after the last flight had left Iraqi airspace.

The fate of the Iraqi civilians assisting the Danish troops was hotly debated in Denmark after the government earlier this year announced it would withdraw the 480-member battle group from Basra in August.

On June 27, the government said it would offer entry visas to those who wanted to apply for asylum in Denmark, and financial help or jobs at Danish missions to those who wanted to remain in the region.

At the time the government focused on 22 interpreters and their families, but said it would consider similar offers to 130 other interpreters and aides who had worked for the Danish military, police or Foreign Ministry in Iraq since 2003.

It was not immediately clear how many of the roughly 200 people evacuated from Iraq were aides, and how many were family members. The government was expected to release more details later Friday.

About 80 people were aboard the last flight, a Danish Air Force C-130 Hercules transport plane, which took off from Basra early Friday, Winther said. The passengers would be transferred to a civilian plane in an undisclosed country, before continuing to Copenhagen later Friday, he said.

© 2013 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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