THE HAGUE, (AFP) — Three Dutch marines helping to evacuate civilians from Sirte were captured by Libyan soldiers at the weekend, the Dutch defence ministry said Thursday as negotiations continued for their safe return.
“Intensive diplomatic discussions with the Libyan authorities are ongoing,” ministry spokesman Otte Beeksma told AFP, saying the three, captured on Sunday, “are doing well under the circumstances”.
“We have had direct contact with them (the marines),” he said, but declined to say where they were being held.
Beeksma said the three soldiers were captured by armed men loyal to Libyan leader Moamer Kadhafi in Sirte in the north of the country on Sunday. It happened as they were helping to evacuate two civilians, one Dutch and another European, by helicopter.
The civilians, who were also captured, were handed over to the Dutch embassy on Wednesday, and had since left the country, said Beeksma.
The marines and the helicopter were based on the Dutch navy frigate Tromp.
The warship, initially scheduled to take part in anti-piracy patrols off Somalia, was rerouted on February 24 for the Libyan coast to assist with evacuation operations.
Countries have been scrambling to evacuate their nationals from Libya, where the Libyan Human Rights League says at least 6,000 people have died since the start two weeks ago of a popular revolt against Kadhafi’s 41-year-old regime.
The UN refugee agency and International Organisation for Migration say that some 140,000 people have so far left Libya by land.
The UN humanitarian office (OCHA) has raised fears of “a massive movement” of people south towards Niger as they flee the violence. It suspected as many as 100,000 might flee there within a month.