Gunmen release dozens of Tunisian workers held in Libya

Gunmen have released dozens of Tunisians kidnapped in northwestern Libya following the release of a local Libyan official arrested in Tunisia

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A group of Tunisian workers who were kidnapped by gunmen in northwestern Libya earlier on Tuesday, have been released according to an official statement by the Tunisian foreign ministry.

Earlier on Tuesday gunmen had kidnapped dozens of Tunisians in northwestern Libya, demanding the release of a local Libyan official arrested in Tunisia this week, according to families and locals sources said on Tuesday.

But according to sources Tunisian authorities released the Libyan activist, which led to the return of the hostages, who have since returned home.

The kidnapping happened when an official from Sabratha, a coastal town between Libya’s capital Tripoli and the Tunisian border, was arrested along with another Libyan at Tunis airport on Saturday, Sabratha’s municipal council said.

The two had flown to Tunis on a visit organized by United Nations, the council said.

At the time of the kidnapping the daughter of one of the detained Tunisians told local radio: “Gunmen kidnapped my father... We talked with the kidnappers over the phone and told us they would release them only when Tunisia frees the Libyan officials arrested in Tunisia… I ask the authorities to intervene.”

Mustapha Abd El Kebir, a Tunisian human rights activist with contacts in Libya, also confirmed that dozens of Tunisians were being held in Sabratha.

Armed groups in chaotic Libya often act with impunity because of a security vacuum in which two rival governments and their armed backers fight for control of the North African state four years after Muammar Qaddafi’s fall from power.

Tunisians and other foreign nationals have been kidnapped or detained in the past to pressure their governments to release Libyans held overseas.

An armed group stormed the Tunisian consulate in Tripoli and kidnapped 10 staff this year before releasing them. Tunisia closed the consulate after the kidnapping.

Relations between the North African neighbors have become increasingly tense, with Tunisia’s government worried about spillover from the chaos that continues to plague Libya after the 2011 revolt against strongman Qaddafi.

(With Reuters)

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