Dutch government concedes it violated Libyan airspace

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The Dutch government has admitted it should have requested permission from the Libyan authorities to evacuate people using a navy helicopter almost two weeks ago. The three-man helicopter crew captured by the Libyans during the bungled operation was released on Friday morning.

In a round-about way, the government appears to be apologising for the fiasco. At a weekly cabinet meeting, Deputy Prime Minister Maxime Verhagen said "In actual fact, we should have asked permission. Once that has been acknowledged, you could see it as an apology."

The three soldiers were captured by the Libyans when they tried to evacuate two people near the town of Syrte with a Lynx helicopter. The government is relieved that the three have been released 12 days after their ordeal began.

Libyan soil Prime Minister Mark Rutte, Defence Minister Hans Hillen and Foreign Minister Uri Rosenthal insist no promises or concessions were made to get the three released. According to Minister Hillen, the Netherlands does not allow itself to be blackmailed, nor were any apologies made to the Libyans.

Parliament will be informed as soon as possibly by letter about what was said. Experts were quick to point out last week, that the Netherlands was acting illegally when it violated Libyan airspace and landed on Libyan soil without permission.

The three soldiers were released after intensive meetings with the regime of Muammar Gaddafi and help from the Greek and Maltese authorities. A Greek airplane picked them up on Friday morning with Greek evacuees. They were flown to Athens.

Frozen assets The three will probably return to the Netherlands on Saturday. Minister Hillen says they were treated well and are in good health. In Greece they were debriefed and given a medical check-up.

It is not clear why the Libyans released the three. Minister Hillen suggests it is part of a charm offensive on the part of Gaddafi to prevent the international community from imposing a no-fly zone above the country in revolt.

The Dutch government has announced that it has frozen assets of the Libyan central bank and the Libyan investment authority in the Netherlands. Finance Minister Jan Kees de Jager says it is "a lot of money" in various banks. It is believed there may be up to one or two billion euros worth of Libyan assets in the Netherlands. The Finance Ministry has declined to confirm the amount.

The Dutch embassy in Tripoli temporarily closed its doors on Friday afternoon and the ambassador is now in Athens.


© Radio Netherlands Worldwide

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