Talks with Libyan tribes secure release of Egyptian drivers in Ajdabiya

Ahram Online , Sunday 20 Oct 2013

Days of negotiations between foreign ministry, Libyan authorities finalise release of detained drivers, Egypt's foreign ministry announces

Salloum land port
Egyptians cross from Libya to Egypt through the Salloum land port gate on Tuesday, Feb. 22, 2011 (Photo: AP)

Egyptian drivers detained in Ajdabiya, Libya since last Friday have been released, Egypt's ambassador to Libya announced on Sunday afternoon.

"Egypt's embassy held successful talks with the eastern Libyan tribes in order to secure the detained drivers' release," Ambassador Mohamed Abu Bakr told state news agency MENA on Sunday afternoon.

The drivers, detained last week by an armed militia in the town of Ajdabiya, will return to Egypt by Sunday night, Abu Bakr added.

On Friday, some 77 Egyptian trucks and micro-buses carrying goods bound for Egypt were stopped in Ajdabiya and detained by a Libyan militia.

An estimated 70-100 drivers and their assistants were taken hostage in the north-eastern Libyan town.

Since then, the Egyptian embassy in Libya has mediated communication between Egypt's foreign ministry and Ajdabiya's tribes in order to negotiate the drivers' release.

On Sunday, foreign ministry spokesperson Badr Abdel-Ati told Ahram Online that negotiations between the Egyptian government, Libyan officials and Ajdabiya's tribes had extended for three days.

In a slight contradiction to the foreign ministry's statements, official military spokesperson Ahmed Ali announced on Facebook on Sunday that the drivers' release was due to coordinated efforts between Egypt's military intelligence and Libyan authorities.

According to news reports, the militia demanded the release of tribe members imprisoned in Egypt for arms smuggling in exchange for the Egyptian drivers.

However, the foreign ministry denies that there were any demands for a hostage exchange. "There is no exchange and officially, our main priority is [the drivers'] safe return to Egypt

"We have not heard any demands from the Libyan side regarding an exchange of the Egyptian drivers with Libyan detainees in Egypt. There is no official reason for the detention," Abdel-Ati said.

Details of the negotiations have not yet been released.

Abdel-Ati added that the Egyptian detainees were being treated well, according to Libyan officials.

Libya's border with Egypt has become a hot spot for arms smuggling over the past two years, following the fall of former Libyan president Muammar Qaddafi's regime.

According to MENA, the national security office in the border town of Salloum issued a ban on Egyptian travel to Libya through the crossing following the drivers' detention. The Salloum crossing is now open only for non-Egyptians and Egyptians returning to Egypt, MENA reports.

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