TUNIS: Ten Tunisian diplomatic staff kidnapped by gunmen from the consulate in the Libyan capital Tripoli a week ago have been freed and have returned home safely, the Tunisian government said on Friday.
No group has claimed responsibility for the abduction, but in Libya’s chaos, armed groups have kidnapped diplomats and foreign nationals to pressure their governments to free Libyan militants held in jails overseas.
Libya’s two rival governments – one internationally recognised and the other self-declared – are fighting on several fronts in an internecine struggle that has emerged since the 2011 fall of strongman Muammar Gaddafi.
Three of the 10 Tunisians had been freed earlier in the week after negotiations between the captors and Libya’s self-declared government, which was set up in Tripoli a year ago after an armed faction called Libya Dawn took over the capital.
“They have been freed and they have already arrived in Tunis this Friday,” Tunisian Foreign Minister Taieb Bakouch told Reuters.
He gave no details about negotiations to free the staff. Their release came after a Tunisian courtruled on Thursday that Libyan Walid Kalib could be extradited.
Kalib is a member of the Libya Dawn faction and was arrested in Tunisia last month. Gunmen stormed the consulate in Tripoli after the Tunisian court, in a previous ruling, refused to release him.
Tunisia is one of the few countries to keep a diplomatic presence in Tripoli since Libya Dawn, a coalition of former rebels and Islamist-leaning armed groups, took over the capital and forced the internationally recognised government to operate in the east.
Most governments evacuated their diplomats and foreign companies pulled out of the OPEC member country. Islamist militants allied to the Islamic State have also gained a foothold amid the political and security chaos.
United Nations negotiators are trying to broker a peace agreement between the two factions and form a unity government to end a crisis that Western powers fear is creating a failed state just across the Mediterranean sea from mainland Europe.