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Delicate situation for Dutch soldiers in Libya. First pictures

(credit: Libyan State Television / NOS Tv)

The arrest of three Dutch soldiers and their helicopter in Sirte (read : The exfiltration goes wrong. 3 Dutch soldiers hostages of the Gaddafi regime in Libya) is politically, militarily and legally embarrassing. And one might wonder how soldiers could have fallen so easily into the hands of the Libyans. In any case, the accusation of spying on the Libyans does not hold water.

A line of defense held

From a legal point of view, in fact, the line of defense of the three Dutch soldiers is held. And they will only have their good faith to defend themselves against their guardians. Their helicopter, in fact, entered Libyan air territory without authorization, with weapons on board, and its occupants did not have authorization to enter the territory. Basically, they are “illegal immigrants”, with prohibited carrying of weapons and no flight plan, in a country at war. It can do a lot. Nor can the military be considered belligerents under the Geneva Conventions.

Sole defence: the United Nations resolution

Aside from diplomatic means, which can be used to secure their release, there are, however, arguments to be made in support of their action. Resolution 1970 of the United Nations Security Council of February 26 provides for “to guarantee the security of all foreigners and their property and to facilitate the departure of those wishing to leave the country“. He also asks “to make humanitarian and related aid accessible in the Libyan Arab Jamahiriya”. Which is not currently the case in Libya. And the Tripoli regime finds itself here in new contradiction with international law. The Dutch military can therefore argue that there is a need for medical evacuation of a European national in danger.

The accusation of espionage, with a helicopter?

As for the accusation of espionage by the Libyan authorities against the Dutch soldiers, it does not really hold water. The helicopter is not the most discreet means of spying, especially when approaching a city. Much more powerful and discreet means can be used such as British Awacs aircraft, French or NATO currently deployed over the affected area. The civilians (1 Dutch and 1 Swedish) were able to return safely apparently.

An explanation, what explanations

(Credit: Libyan State Television: NOS)

In the end, we may wonder how these seasoned soldiers fell so easily into the hands of the Libyans, and why they did not resist. It will undoubtedly be possible, after the fact, to clarify this point. But we can already give two elements of fact. Firstly, the Dutch soldiers were trained and planned for an anti-piracy operation (apparently at least one of the soldiers taken wears the European acronym of the Eunavfor Atalanta operation on his uniform). And the arrest of pirates – who generally do not resist the arrival of military helicopters – on the high seas, does not belong to the same “radius” as the intervention in a land territory, with Libyan armed units, who do not disdain to carry out fatal shots or hostages. Second, resisting assuming that this would have been possible would have rather made their case worse. And the line of defense (operation to rescue a European) is thus held more easily.

Here are the images of the helicopter and the Dutch pilots in the hands of the Libyans (rather courteous interrogation apparently. But we are on state television, with propaganda aims. We must therefore be doubly wary)

Nicolas Gros Verheyde

Chief editor of the B2 site. Graduated in European law from the University of Paris I Pantheon Sorbonne and listener to the 65th session of the IHEDN (Institut des Hautes Etudes de la Défense Nationale. Journalist since 1989, founded B2 - Bruxelles2 in 2008. EU/NATO correspondent in Brussels for Sud-Ouest (previously West-France and France-Soir).