Dutch seek release of soldiers in Libya

8th March 2011, Comments 0 comments

The Dutch government kept silent Tuesday on its efforts to secure the release of three soldiers held captive in Libya, but told the nation they were being treated "well".

Defence Minister Hans Hillen told parliament the three were in good spirits and that Dutch diplomats were working to secure their release.

"They are being treated well," he said, adding that a Dutch envoy had seen the three, held since February 27, "very recently."

"They are in good form, they have enough to eat and drink.... Intensive diplomatic consultations are underway for their release."

Two Dutch pilots, one a woman, and a loadmaster were taken captive in Sirte in the north of Libya in a botched attempt to evacuate two civilians by navy helicopter with no backup on board.

Soldiers loyal to Libyan leader Moamer Kadhafi prevented a Dutch navy Lynx helicopter from taking off with the three Dutch marines and two civilians, a Dutch engineer and one other European, on board.

The civilians were later handed over to the Dutch embassy in Tripoli and sent home.

The Netherlands has conceded that it had no authorisation for the rescue operation.

The government declined to confirm reports Tuesday that it had sent a team of negotiators to the region.

"For now, we are doing everything in our power to set them free. It is on a diplomatic level, and that is all for the moment that we can say," defence ministry spokeswoman Marloes Visser told AFP.

Dutch news agency ANP, quoting sources close to the case, said Dutch diplomats and soldiers charged with negotiating the release of the three arrived in Malta on Tuesday.

"We don't have any comment on all the speculation that is going on in the media," said Visser.

The Dutch foreign ministry also refused to comment.

Prime Minister Mark Rutte said last Friday that the country was doing its "utmost to get them back... using every diplomatic angle we can use."

Dutch television broadcast images last week, taken of the three by Libyan television, showing them in apparent good health.

© 2011 AFP

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