Three Dutch marines released by the Libyan regime after nearly two weeks captivity landed at Athens International Airport in a Greek Air Force C-130 plane at dawn on Friday. Their release was arranged with the assistance of Greece's Deputy Foreign Minister Dimitris Dollis, acting on the orders of Prime Minister George Papandreou.
Also on board the C-130 were Dollis himself and another 12 Greeks evacuated from violence-torn Libya.
The three Dutch marines -- two men and a woman -- were arrested by the Libyan regime after landing a helicopter, without permission, near the port of Sirte in order to evacuate two Dutch citizens from Libya.
The Greek government said on Thursday night that it had dispatched the C-130 to Libya to pick up the freed marines after agreement achieved during a meeting earlier in the day between Dollis and Muammar Gaddafi's emissary Mohamed Tahir Siala.
Shortly after the marines' arrival in Athens, Dutch foreign minister Uri Rosenthal telephoned his Greek counterpart Dimitris Droutsas to thank him for Greece's intercession in the case of the three Dutch marines and their safe evacuation to Athens with a Greek Airforce plane.
"We managed to successfully negotiate the release of the three Dutch marines and we had the opportunity to bring another 12 people, Greeks and Libyan relatives, in an operation involving one C-130. Our country has once again succeeded in doing that which may others were unable to do," Dollis stressed in a televised interview on Friday morning.
Dollis explained that the negotiations to free the three Dutch nationals had begun on Thursday morning and taken place on three levels simultaneously: with Prime Minister George Papandreou from Brussels, Greek Foreign Minister Dimitris Droutsas at the EU ministers' council and finally with Dollis himself, via his direct negotiations with Libyan officials.
The deputy minister underlined the difficulties involved, saying that it was not simple to arrange the release of three individuals that had been held for so long and bring them safely back to Europe via Greece.
Greece's aid was enlisted following high-level communication between the Hague and Athens, after which Papandreou instructed Dollis to investigate the possibility of the Dutch marines' release during the meeting with Siala.