Rebels hold British soldiers, diplomat in Libya: report

6th March 2011, Comments 0 comments

A British special forces unit (SAS) and a junior diplomat were being held by rebels in eastern Libya following a bungled mission to put the envoy in touch with them, The Sunday Times newspaper said.

The broadsheet, citing sources, said the Special Air Service (SAS) soldiers, thought to be up to eight men, were captured along with the diplomat they were escorting through the rebel-held east.

"We can neither confirm nor deny the report," a Foreign Office spokeswoman told AFP.

The Ministry of Defence (MoD) said: "We neither confirm nor deny the story and we do not comment on the special forces."

The uninvited appearance of the SAS alongside the diplomat "angered Libyan opposition figures who ordered the soldiers to be locked up in a military base," the weekly said.

Opponents of Libyan leader Moamer Kadhafi "fear he could use any evidence of Western military interference to rally patriotic support for his regime," it said.

The newspaper said that according to Libyan sources, the SAS soldiers were taken by rebels to Libya's second city Benghazi, held by the opposition, and hauled up before a senior figure.

The Sunday Times said a British source, who confirmed the men had been detained, said the diplomat they were protecting had wanted to make contact with the rebels.

It cited a source close to the opposition leadership as saying rebel officials were worried that Libyan people might think from the escort party that "foreign troops have started to interfere by landing in Libya".

British service personnel have already been involved in the rescue of British nationals working on oil installations in remote desert camps.

Prime Minister David Cameron last week said Tuesday that Western countries should be stepping up contact with the Libyan opposition to gain a greater understanding of their intentions.

Foreign Secretary William Hague held telephone talks Wednesday with General Abdel Fatah Yunis, the former Libyan interior minister who defected, about the situation on the ground.

The MoD said Saturday that about 200 troops had been placed on standby to help with evacuation and humanitarian operations in Libya.

The troops from the Black Watch, 3rd Battalion The Royal Regiment of Scotland, are ready for deployment at 24 hours' notice, a spokeswoman said.

A YouGov poll of 2,413 adults conducted on Thursday and Friday for The Sunday Times found low support for using troops in Libya.

It found that 69 percent supported economic sanctions on the Kadhafi regime and 56 percent favoured the imposition of a no-fly zone.

However, only 12 percent backed providing arms to rebel forces and 11 percent agreed with sending in allied troops.

Some 48 percent thought Cameron has handled the Libyan uprising badly and 32 percent said he had handled it well.

© 2011 AFP

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