The three Dutch aviators captured during a rescue operation in Libya nearly two weeks ago were set to be released Thursday. One of the sons of the country’s longtime ruler Colonel Muammar Gaddafi announced this.
Saif al-Islam Gaddafi said that the Dutch navy personnel would be handed over to “the Maltese and Greeks” in an interview with Reuters. A Greek military airplane was scheduled to pick up nationals Thursday evening.
“We captured the first NATO soldiers,” Saif al-Islam Gaddafi said. “We are sending them back home. But we are still keeping their helicopter.”
The three were captured by forces loyal to the Gaddafi regime while attempting to rescue a Dutch engineer and a Swedish citizen the city of Sirte, centered halfway between Tripoli and Benghazi on the Mediterranean coast. They deployed in a Lynx helicopter from the HNLMS Tromp.
Libyan state television has aired footage of the Dutch helicopter and members of its crew along with weapons they carried, noting that they did not have permission to enter Libyan airspace.
Dutch defense minister Hans Hillen said earlier this week that the three were hold in “good condition” in Libya. Authorities would not comment on their possible release.
Civil unrest has swept the North African country for weeks. While rebel forces were in control of major cities in the east, Gaddafi remained defiant in the capital city of Tripoli. His son has warned of “civil war” if the turmoil endured. Heavy force was deployed against anti-government militias in the city of Az Zawiyah, near Tripoli, and in the oil port of Ra’s Lanuf. More than a thousand Libyans were estimated to have been killed in the violence.
NATO defense ministers met in Brussels on Thursday to discuss the possibility of military intervention. Rebels have asked for the enforcement of a no-fly zone to prevent the regime from halting their advance on the capital with aerial bombardments. Ra’s Lanuf and oil industry in the east of Libya had been attacked from the air while opposition members reported helicopter gunships shooting into crowds during the early days of the revolt.
While the alliance agreed to intensify patrolling in the Mediterranean Sea and provide humanitarian assistance to refugees, it would not commit to a no-fly zone without approval from the United Nations. France and the United Kingdom were working on a Security Council resolution that would authorize such action.