Libya to free captured Dutch heli crew

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Three detained Dutch soldiers will be liberated by Libya, state television channel Allibya has said. The three, a navy helicopter crew, were captured in the northern city of Syrte by Gaddafi loyalists after a bungled evacuation operation on 27 February.

The helicopter was based on the frigate HNLMS Tromp, anchored off the Libyan coast, and was attempting to evacuate a Dutch and a Swedish national from getting caught up in the protests against the Gaddafi regime. The failure of the rescue operation led to fierce criticism of Defence Minister Hans Hillen's handling of the case. The two Europeans were able to leave Libya shortly after the arrest of the soldiers, who were 'treated well' according to Minister Hillen.

When and where the release is to take place remains unclear. Libya TV said the soldiers had entered Libya 'illegally' and 'will be handed over to officials from Greece and Malta'.

The imminent release has not yet been confirmed by independent sources in Libya. The Dutch Ministry of Defence in The Hague has told RNW it has no immediate comment.

Over the past few days, top officials from the Dutch government travelled to the Mediterranean and held secret negotiatiations with the Gaddafi regime towards freeing the soldiers. Libyan TV had earlier shown footage of the three military, one woman and two men, claiming that they were spies.


© Radio Netherlands Worldwide

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