Three crew members of a Dutch military helicopter have been held since Sunday by forces loyal to Libyan strongman Moammar Kadafi after being prevented from completing an evacuation mission, Dutch defense officials said Thursday.
The three are believed to be the first foreign troops to be held by the Kadafi regime since it began its bloody crackdown against antigovernment protesters, which has drawn international condemnation.
The Dutch Defense Ministry said “intensive diplomatic talks” were underway to try to secure the release of the crew, whose identities are not being made public.
“We heard that they are being treated well,” said Marloes Visser, a spokeswoman for the ministry. “At this moment they’re being held by the Libyans, and we’re doing everything in our power for a soon and safe release.”
Officials said the three crew members were aboard a naval helicopter that launched Sunday afternoon from the frigate Tromp for the port city of Surt, a Kadafi stronghold. The chopper was on its way to pick up two civilian foreigners, one a Dutch national and the other from an unspecified European country.
But armed Kadafi loyalists prevented the helicopter from taking off from Surt and captured the crew members and the two civilians, the ministry said.
The two evacuees were handed over to the Dutch Embassy in Tripoli on Wednesday and have since left Libya, Visser said. But the crew members remain in custody at an unspecified location.
Since the weekend, a number of European countries have sent in troops to rescue stranded nationals, mostly from the eastern part of Libya, large parts of which are under the control of anti-Kadafi rebels.
The British dispatched military planes Saturday and Sunday to pick up about 300 foreign nationals, many of them oil workers stuck in the deserts of eastern Libya. One of the British aircraft was apparently hit by small-arms fire.
German planes have also crossed into Libyan airspace without Kadafi’s approval to fly out foreign workers.