Belfast Telegraph

Saturday 20 December 2014

Libyan rebels release British team

Foreign Secretary William Hague said the diplomatic team had been released and had left Libya
Foreign Secretary William Hague said the diplomatic team had been released and had left Libya
A Libyan rebel holds a sword near Ras Lanuf, eastern Libya (AP)
A Libyan rebel holds a sword near Ras Lanuf, eastern Libya (AP)

Libyan rebels have released a British special forces team who were detained when a mission to contact opponents of Colonel Muammar Gaddafi went wrong, it has been revealed.

The eight-strong group, who were escorting a junior diplomat, has now left the country bound for Malta on board HMS Cumberland.

However, Foreign Secretary William Hague said the government intended to send further diplomatic personnel soon to "strengthen dialogue" with rebel leaders.

"I can confirm that a small British diplomatic team has been in Benghazi," Mr Hague said. "The team went to Libya to initiate contacts with the opposition. They experienced difficulties, which have now been satisfactorily resolved. They have now left Libya.

"We intend, in consultation with the opposition, to send a further team to strengthen our dialogue in due course. This diplomatic effort is part of the UK's wider work on Libya, including our ongoing humanitarian support.

"We continue to press for Gaddafi to step down and we will work with the international community to support the legitimate ambitions of the Libyan people."

According to reports, guards challenged the SAS team when they arrived at an agricultural compound in the eastern city of Benghazi. They were detained after a search of their bags revealed ammunition, explosives, maps and fake passports.

The news came as the battle for control of Libya raged, with both sides entrenched in key locations and a drawn-out civil war looking increasingly likely.

Airstrikes by Gaddafi's forces reportedly hit the strategic oil port of Ras Lanuf, but failed to reclaim it. They fared better in the town of Bin Jawwad - about 110 miles east of Gaddafi's birthplace of Sirte - and are apparently back in control.

In the capital Tripoli, residents awoke before dawn to the crackle of unusually heavy and sustained gunfire that lasted for at least two hours.

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