Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 June 2019

Fourteen Tunisian workers kidnapped in Libya

The workers are thought to be being held in Zawiya, 45 kilometres west of Tripoli

The armed group behind Thursday's kidnapping was reportedly demanding the release of one of its members held in Tunisia. EPA
The armed group behind Thursday's kidnapping was reportedly demanding the release of one of its members held in Tunisia. EPA

Armed militants kidnapped a group of Tunisian workers near the Libyan capital to demand the release of a comrade held in Tunisia.

Libya’s Tripoli-based Government of National Accord said 14 workers had been taken hostage.

“The foreign ministry is following the case of the Tunisian citizens ... kidnapped by armed Libyan elements near Zawiya,” Tunisia’s foreign ministry said.

“The minister has spoken to his Libyan counterpart to insist on the protection of the detainees, accelerate their release and ensure that they return safe and sound,” it said.

The Government of National Accord’s interior ministry said it had set up a “crisis cell” in Zawiya to establish “the necessary measures and contacts to guarantee the security of these kidnapped [Tunisians] and [to ensure] their release without conditions”.

Libya has been mired in chaos since the fall of dictator Muammar Qaddafi in a 2011 Nato-backed uprising.

Human rights activist Mustapha Abdelkebir, who is based in southern Tunisia near the Libyan border, said the group of Tunisian workers was being held in a district of Zawiya, a city in north-western Libya about 45 kilometres west of Tripoli.

The town of 20,000 residents is controlled by armed groups nominally under the authority of the Government of National Accord, some of which are involved in fuel smuggling and people trafficking.

Abductions are a regular tactic used “to free Libyans detained in Tunisia”, Mr Abdelkebir said.

In 2012, the Tunisian government said about 100 were abducted by armed Libyans in Zawiya in an attempt to free four militants detained in Tunisia, but this allegation was denied by Libyan authorities.

Tunisia reopened a consulate in neighbouring Libya last year, after shutting it three years earlier in the wake of the kidnapping of 10 Tunisian diplomats.

The Libyan militia that carried out the 2015 kidnapping had demanded the release of one of its leaders, Walid Glib, held in Tunisia as part of a counter-terrorism investigation. The diplomats were released after several days and Mr Glib was later deported to Tripoli.

Updated: February 17, 2019 04:59 PM

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