Athens Negotiates Marines’ Release

The three Dutch marines who were captured near Sirte on 27 February during a failed evacuation mission in Libya have been released and were flown to Athens last Friday following negotiations in the Greek capital the day before.

The Dutch Prime Minister, Mark Rutte, stated that no concessions or special deals were negotiated during the meeting last Thursday between the Greek Minister of Foreign Affairs, Dimitris Dollis, and an envoy of Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi in which the release of the helicopter crew, two men and a woman, was initially agreed upon.

Following the meeting in Athens, Dollis flew to Tripoli where detailed negotiations took place before an agreement was reached. The three marines were flown to Athens early Friday morning on a Greek military transport plane along with twelve Greek evacuees.

During a press conference in Brussels Rutte said that the Netherlands had not paid any ransom or made any concessions to Libya to secure the release of the three marines’. He stated that “We are very glad that our three soldiers have been released. Sixteen million Dutch are looking forward to welcoming them back home,” adding that he was grateful for all of the assistance provided by Greece and Malta.

Pressed by reporters, the Dutch Prime Minister reiterated that no ransom had been paid, “Did we pay money? No. Did we make concessions from the Netherlands to Libya? No,” he stated. Rutte added that he would explain the details of the marines’ capture and the negotiations that led to their release in a letter to parliament.

Greece, which has traditionally maintained positive relations with Libya and with Gadhafi, has been a key player in the evacuation from Libya of nationals of several countries including China. It is believed that the Greek Prime Minister, George Papandreou, opened discussions aimed at freeing the Dutch marines during a telephone conversation with Gadhafi last Tuesday. Greek journalists believe that the telephone call was initiated by the Libyan leader.

The Dutch troops and their helicopter, which has not been released by Libyan forces, were seized last month by forces loyal to Gadhafi. They had left the Dutch navy ship HMS Tromp, at the time anchored off the coast of Libya, and were attempting to evacuate a number of individuals while the rebellion against the North African country’s longtime leader’ gathered momentum.

Photo: Netherlands Ministry of Defence

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Mark Lowe, Monday 14 March 2011

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