In related developments today:
- The Libyan government has accepted a plan by Gadhafi's friend Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez to seek a negotiated solution to the uprising, according to a Reuters report. Reports that the Arab League had shown interest in Chavez's proposal to send an international commission to talk with both sides in Libya pushed oil prices below $102 a barrel.
- Gadhafi's warplanes bombed eastern Libya for a second straight day, but rebels appeared to be holding Brega, a key oil installation site inside rebel territory in the east, despite a government counteroffensive. Pickup trucks loaded with soldiers who've switched sides to join pro-democracy forces arrived to reinforce Brega this morning, The Associated Press reported.
The helicopter was "surrounded by armed Libyan forces late on Sunday afternoon," a Dutch defense ministry spokesman told The New York Times. "Intensive negotiations" are under way for their release, he said.
But the Dutch marines are still in Libyan custody. "We have also been in contact with the crewmen involved," a defense spokesman also told the AP. He declined to label them hostages.
Their capture was kept quiet for four days for security reasons, Radio Netherlands reported.
The fear is that the Dutch troops could be used as a bargaining chip by Gadhafi's increasingly isolated regime, or for propaganda purposes. In 2007, a group of British marines were captured by Iranian forces in the Persian Gulf and paraded in front of state TV cameras before being released in what Iran described as a benevolent gesture.
This is the first known case of Gadhafi's fighters capturing and holding foreigners during the recent unrest in Libya. On Feb. 22, after the start of fighting between pro-Gadhafi forces and pro-democracy rebels, the U.S. State Department warned foreign journalists that the Libyan government might consider them "terrorist collaborators" if caught in the country. Hundreds of journalists have since flooded into Libya, mostly in the rebel-held east where Gadhafi is no longer in power. There have been no known cases of kidnappings.
The Libyan leader has lashed out at any suggestion of foreign military forces entering the country to help stabilize it. In a rambling, nearly three-hour speech in Tripoli Wednesday, Gadhafi warned that "thousands of Libyans will die" if the U.S. or NATO intervene in his country's affairs. "They will set foot in hell -- worse than Afghanistan," he said.
Those airstrikes continued today, with bombs raining down on the eastern town of Ajdabiya in addition to Brega, CNN reported. Both are in eastern Libya, where rebels are in control, and both also saw intense fighting Wednesday, as pro-Gadhafi forces launched their biggest-ever push to retake positions lost to opposition fighters over the past three weeks.
So far, opposition forces appear to have repelled recent offensives by pro-Gadhafi forces, but fighting is still under way in some eastern areas.