Tunisians kidnapped by armed Libyan group released: ministry

AFP , Wednesday 18 Apr 2012

Tunisia announces release of citizens kidnapped in Libya while the latter country denies the incident constitutes kidnapping

Some 100 Tunisian workers kidnapped by armed men in western Libya have been released, Tunisia said Wednesday after a diplomatic row in which Tripoli denied any abductions had occurred.

"The Tunisians kidnapped in Libya have been freed," Tunisia's interior ministry said in a statement.

The statement claimed the workers' seizure had been in retaliation for the arrest of Libyan nationals in Tunisia, and said Tunis had released three Libyans arrested on April 14 near the north African countries' border.

Tunisia's interior ministry said the freed Libyans had already returned home, and that Tunis was working with authorities in Libya to assure the Tunisians' safe return.

Tunisian media questioned officials' handling of the incident.

"If the hostage seizure took place, why do the Libyans deny it so categorically? And if it did not take place, why do the Tunisians say it did?" asked news website Kapitalis.

The Tunisian League for Human Rights had said Tuesday that around 100 people working near the town of Zaouia, some 50 kilometres (30 miles) west of Tripoli, had been taken hostage by armed men demanding the release of a group of Libyans held in Tunisia.

According to the rights group, the kidnappers' leader was the brother of one of the arrested Libyans, who were suspected of drugs and arms trafficking.

But Libya's interior ministry denied the incident, and the vice chairman of Libya's high security committee downplayed the event as a misunderstanding, saying the Tunisians had merely had their journey interrupted by a group of former rebels angered by the detention of three Libyans in Tunis.

The Libyans "held up a group of Tunisians in a bid to have them join their cause," Tarek Zambo told AFP.

"This does not constitute a kidnapping."

Zambo accused former members of slain leader Moamer Kadhafi's regime of provoking the unrest in hopes of "damaging relations" between the two countries after finding refuge in southern Tunisia.

The border zone is plagued by violence and black-market trade and has seen a surge in arms trafficking since the Libyan uprising that overthrew Kadhafi in August last year.

Five Tunisian men were kidnapped in the same area on April 7 and let go two days later.

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