Tunisia has repatriated at least 16 women and children accused of links to extremist fighters imprisoned in war-ravaged neighboring Libya, rights groups said Wednesday.
Two separate groups of detainees, totaling six women and 10 children, were handed over by Libyan authorities at the Tunisian border earlier in March, said Mustapha Abdelkebir, from the Tunisian Observatory for Human Rights.
News of their release came as Tunisian President Kais Saied visited Libya on Wednesday, his country’s first leader to do so for nine years, to meet Libya’s newly-sworn in unity government.
Libya descended into chaos after former Libyan President Muammar Gaddaf was toppled and killed in a NATO-backed uprising in 2011, with an array of forces battling to fill the void, creating fertile ground for extremist groups like the ISIS terrorits group to take root.
Extremists used lawless Libya as a staging area for a series of bloody attacks in Tunisia, but a new UN-backed unity government in Libya is seeking to restore stability.
Activists urged Saied to plead for the release of others still in Libyan detention.
“We hope that... President Saied will do his utmost to speed up the returns of those who are still detained,” said Mohamed Iqbel Ben Rejeb, of the Rescue Association of Tunisians Trapped Abroad campaign group.
Abdelkebir estimated some 20 Tunisian children remain in detention in Libya, and about 15 women.
The children now in Tunisia, aged between three and 17, have been handed over to social services ahead of their possible return to their families.
The six women are being held at a Tunisian detention ahead of their trial, Abdelkebir said.
The issue of repatriation of citizens who left to fight abroad is hotly debated in Tunisia, after several bloody attacks carried out on home soil by Tunisians trained in Libya.
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