Libyan rebels release UK troops

Fighters in Benghazi free British "diplomatic team" including seven Special Forces members.

    Large parts of Libya have fallen under the control of anti-government forces [Reuters]

    Libyan anti-government fighters have released eight captured British citizens, believed to be a UK diplomat and a special forces team.

    The suspected special forces troops were released on Sunday and sailed out of Tripoli aboard a British naval vessel, Hoda Abdel-Hamid, Al Jazeera's correspondent in Benghazi, reported.

    A statement from William Hague, the UK foreign minster, later confirmed that the "diplomatic team" had left Libya.

    "The team went to Libya to initiate contacts with the opposition," Hague's statement said.

    "They experienced difficulties, which have now been satisfactorily resolved."

    The British government says the men were part of a diplomatic mission trying to make contact with Libyan opposition leaders, but sources in Benghazi say that only one of the men had a diplomatic passport.

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    The others are thought to be members of the UK's Special Forces.

    The men were reportedly dropped into Libya by helicopter on Friday near the town of Salouk, where they were captured and brought to Benghazi.

    "Sources here tell us there was no stamp of entry or exit through Egypt in their passports," Abdel-Hamid reported.

    "The one explanation they [the anti-government forces] are giving [is that] the men were dropped by helicopter somewhere near a farm in Salouk.

    "They were found there by the rebels who saw the helicopter, saw it come down - that's what our sources are telling us, but we cannot independently verify this at the moment."

    The UK's Sunday Times newspaper first reported the men's capture by Libyan opposition, which was later confirmed by sources in Benghazi.

    Libya has seen weeks of violence in protest against the rule of Muammar Gaddafi, the Libyan leader, with much of the country - the east and many cities around the capital - now thought to be held by anti-Gaddafi fighters.

    World leaders, including Britain, have condemned Gaddafi's use of force against his own people in attempting to quell the protests.

    The Sunday Times said that a British source, who confirmed the men had been detained, said the diplomat they were protecting had wanted to make contact with the rebels to prepare the way for a visit by a senior colleague.

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera and agencies


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