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Gadhafi loyalists capture Dutch soldiers during botched evacuation

Three Dutch soldiers have been taken by armed men loyal to leader Moammar Gadhafi, according to the Dutch Defense Ministry. The soldiers were evacuating two European citizens from the country rocked by civil unrest.

A pro-Gadhafi youth riding in the back of a pickup truck brandishes a knife

Gadhafi loyalists took the soldiers, according to the Dutch

The Dutch Defense Ministry confirmed Thursday that three Dutch soldiers had been taken prisoner over the weekend in Libya and that negotiations for their return were ongoing.

"We have had direct contact with them [the marines]," ministry spokesman Otte Beeksma told the wire service AFP, adding that the three were "doing well under the circumstances."

The three were taking part in an operation to evacuate two European citizens from Sirte, in the northern part of the country. After their helicopter landed they were attacked by armed men with connections to the regime of Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi.

The two civilians involved in the evacuation were also taken but then handed over to the Dutch embassy in Tripoli by the Libyans. They have since left the country.

The government said that the capture, which occurred on Sunday, was not made known to the public until now for security reasons.

Unrest has killed thousands

The three marines and their helicopter were based on the Dutch frigate Tromp, which had been set to take part in an anti-piracy operation off the coast of Somalia but was sent to Libya on February 24.

Gadhafi has lost control of portions of the country to anti-government forces despite a violent crackdown on protests by the regime. During the last two days, loyalist troops have begun dropping bombs on rebel strongholds. Human rights groups say thousands have been killed in the unrest.

Foreign militaries have increased their presence in the area, and Gadhafi has said that thousands of Libyans would die if the US or NATO were to intervene.

Author: Holly Fox (AFP, dpa)
Editor: Martin Kuebler

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