Eight British soldiers who were captured while accompanying a UK diplomat on a secret mission are reported to have been released by anti-Gaddafi forces in Libya.
The eight Special Air Service officers were in the eastern part of the country escorting a junior diplomat who was supposed to negotiate with the rebels. They were seized on Sunday by anti-government protesters, who said they were outraged by the incident, seeing it as foreign intervention into Libya's internal affairs.
The group was taken to the city of Benghazi. The eight SAS soldiers were released later the same day and left the country, according to Sky News sources.
UK Foreign Secretary William Hague confirmed the reports.
“The team went to Libya to initiate contacts with the opposition,” Hague was quoted as saying by Sky News. He added that other diplomats would be sent to Libya to “strengthen dialogue” with rebel leaders.
The European Union reportedly dispatched a fact-finding mission to Tripoli on Sunday. The mission was charged with assessing the humanitarian and evacuation needs in the country. The mission’s report is to be filed for a meeting of EU foreign ministers in Brussels next week, which will precede Friday’s EU crisis summit on Libya, according to the Reuters news agency.
A statement issued by the EU said it was the first such international mission to Libya since violence broke out in the North African country.
“We have people on the borders, but nobody on the ground in Libya to find out what's going on. We are not there to negotiate, but to listen, and find out what's going on on the ground,” EU foreign policy Chief Catherine Ashton was quoted as saying by Reuters.
The EU’s announcement comes as more Western warships and planes are moving closer to Libya. The country is slipping closer to civil war, with increasing reports of air strikes and the use of heavy weaponry by government forces.
“There is never a purely humanitarian motive in international relations,” stated Ahmed Badawi, co-founder and executive director of the Transform conflict analysis center. “I am sure a lot of this has to do with oil. But also there have been massive investments in Libya over the last four or five years. A lot of money is at stake here.”
Nevertheless, Badawi does not believe official intervention will take place.
“Any such international military intervention in Libya would have absolutely negative effects,” he said. “The West will have to think very carefully before committing to such a course of action. The US secretary of defense said the US cannot afford another intractable land war in the Middle East and even a no-fly zone will be risky and complex. It would mean the Western forces would have to destroy Libyan air defense capabilities. Ironically, of course, these capabilities were built by the West.”
Dr. Jens Wagner, a peace activist and member of Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War, thinks that although a military intervention should be avoided at any cost, it is too late to do anything to help Libya out of the crisis.
“We can see the development of foreign intervention just in recent interventions,” said Wagner. “We can study it in Afghanistan, we can study it in Iraq, we can study it in part in Pakistan. So we can see what kind of humanitarian intervention the interventionist forces are planning to do.”
Wagner pointed out that Libyan leader Colonel Muammar Gaddafi is a consequence of Western politics over the last 40 years.
“It would be nice to see some Western leaders who have been in close alliance with Gaddafi for the last 10 years to be brought to trial,” Wagner declared.