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Libyan opposition briefly detains, then frees British troops

By the CNN Wire Staff
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British diplomatic team taken in Libya
  • NEW: A group of British special forces has left the country
  • NEW: British foreign secretary says they "experienced difficulties"
  • Three Dutch Navy troops are being held by forces loyal to Gadhafi, the Dutch say

Benghazi, Libya (CNN) -- A group of British special forces who were briefly detained by the opposition in eastern Libya have left the country, along with a diplomat, sources told CNN Sunday.

In a statement, British Foreign Secretary William Hague described the group, and their release, in more vague terms.

"I can confirm that a small British diplomatic team has been in Benghazi. 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," Hague said in a statement.

"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 Gadhafi to step down and we will work with the international community to support the legitimate ambitions of the Libyan people."

Sources said the forces were leaving on board the British warship HMS Cumberland.

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Earlier, two sources close to the Libyan opposition told CNN that negotiations between senior British officials and senior opposition leaders in Libya were under way to secure the release of the eight British special forces troops.

The Sunday Times of London reported that the unit of "up to eight men" was being held after "a secret mission to put British diplomats in touch with leading opponents of Moammar Gadhafi ended in humiliation."

British Prime Minister David Cameron said last week his government wanted to contact the opposition to find out who they were and what they wanted.

The newspaper said opposition figures were angry about the "intervention" of special forces troops and "ordered the soldiers to be locked up on a military base."

In an interview with the BBC, British Defense Secretary Liam Fox -- in response to a question -- said there was no plan to use British land forces on the ground in Libya.

Three Dutch Navy troops were held in Libya on February 27 during what the Dutch Ministry of Defense called an effort to evacuate a Dutch citizen from Libya.

Their helicopter was prevented from taking off by forces loyal to Gadfahi, the Netherlands said Thursday, four days after the event. It had kept the capture secret until then for security reasons, the ministry said.

"Intensive diplomatic talks" were underway as of Thursday, it said. There has been no further update since then.

CNN's Arwa Damon contributed to this report

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