Dutch negotiate for release of soldiers in Libya, government says

The Netherlands is using "every diplomatic angle" to try and secure the release of three Dutch soldiers captured in Libya while attempting to rescue civilians, Prime Minister Mark Rutte said Friday.

The three were taken captive in Sirte in the north of Libya in a botched attempt to evacuate two civilians, a Dutch engineer and one other European, by navy helicopter.

"We are doing our utmost to get them back and using every diplomatic angle we can use," the premier told a weekly post-cabinet press conference, insisting he could not elaborate until the three were home safe.

"The focus now must be on getting them back safely ... as quickly as possible. As long as I am of the opinion that it is better for the process of getting them back safely that the cabinet and I remain mum, we will do so."

Earlier, the defense ministry said "intensive negotiations" were underway to secure the liberty of the three: two navy pilots, one of them a woman, and a loadmaster.

Dutch television on Thursday night broadcast images taken from Libyan television of the three soldiers, apparently in good health, captured by Libyan armed forces on Sunday.

Defense ministry spokesperson Otte Beeksma confirmed reports that the operation was carried out without authorization from Libya, whose soldiers prevented the Lynx helicopter from taking off with the three Dutch marines and two civilians on board.

The civilians were later handed over to the Dutch embassy in Tripoli and returned to the Netherlands on Wednesday.

Beeksma said the team had no backup on the helicopter, which is based on the Dutch navy frigate Tromp.

The warship, initially scheduled to take part in anti-piracy patrols off Somalia, was rerouted to the Libyan coast where it arrived on February 25 to lend support for evacuation operations.

-AFP/NOW Lebanon

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Three Dutch soldiers captured in Libya, ministry says