3 Dutch marines freed by Libya arrive home

AP News
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Posted: Mar 12, 2011 12:26 PM
3 Dutch marines freed by Libya arrive home

Three Dutch marines held for nearly two weeks by forces loyal to Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi said Saturday they had spent part of the time handcuffed and blindfolded, but generally were treated well in captivity.

The two men and one woman were released early Friday and flown to Athens following negotiations between senior Dutch diplomats and members of Gadhafi's regime.

The troops and their helicopter were seized Feb. 27 by armed forces loyal to Gadhafi after landing near Sirte, Libya, to help evacuate people from the country as a rebellion against the longtime leader's rule gained steam.

Prime Minister Mark Rutte said the Netherlands did not pay ransom or make concessions to Gadhafi's regime in return for their freedom.

Lt. Yvonne Niersman said one of the worst aspects of their imprisonment was not knowing how long they would be held.

"We had no idea how long it might last," Niersman said. "It could have been over in a day, or it could have been years."

The three wore military overalls, the same or similar to the ones they wore when they were photographed in captivity.

Niersman, looking healthy and relaxed, spoke on behalf of the crew, although it was not immediately clear whether she was the mission commander.

She said the crew had felt threatened during their capture and transfer by plane two days later, blindfolded, to Tripoli. They also were blindfolded during interrogations after their capture, she said.

The crew was able to stay up to date with world affairs and the situation in Libya because they could watch television with foreign news channels.

"The chaos and disorder were quite intimidating," Niersman said.

At a brief press conference at a military air base in the southern city of Eindhoven, Niersman and Dutch defense chief Gen. Peter van Uhm refused to answer any questions about the crew's capture or the mission that led to it.

Niersman said they were held at "a sort of guest house," and were never charged with any offense by Libyan authorities or accused of espionage.

The government has pledged to explain in a letter to Parliament why the marines flew a lightly armed Lynx helicopter from a frigate anchored offshore into Sirte, one of the strongholds of Gadhafi support, to rescue a Dutch worker and another European as anti-government rebels fought with forces loyal to the Libyan leader across the North African nation.

The two evacuees were released the day after their capture, but the marines were held, leading to fears they could be used as bargaining chips by Gadhafi.

Van Uhm greeted the marines as they got off an air force plane to cheers from waiting family members. A woman ran across the tarmac and jumped into the arms of one of the men as they walked toward the terminal.