Militiamen have kidnapped a group of Tunisian workers near the Libyan capital and are demanding the release of a comrade held in Tunisia, a rights activist said on Saturday.
A diplomatic source and 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 on its Facebook page.
Rights activist Mustapha Abdelkebir said the armed group behind Thursday’s kidnapping was demanding the release of one of its members held in Tunisia.
“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”, Tunisia’s foreign ministry said.
The GNA’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 Moamer Kadhafi in a 2011 NATO-backed uprising, as two rival administrations and numerous militias grapple for power.
Activist Abdelkebir, who is based in southern Tunisia near the Libyan border, said the Tunisian workers were being held in a district of Zawiya.
The town of 20 000 residents is controlled by armed groups nominally under the authority of the GNA, some of which are involved in fuel smuggling and people trafficking.
Abductions are a regular tactic used “to free Libyans detained in Tunisia”, said Abdelkebir.
In 2012, Tunis said some 100 Tunisians were abducted by armed Libyans in Zawiya in a bid to secure the release of four comrades detained in Tunisia, but this allegation was denied by Libyan authorities.
Tunisia reopened a consulate in Libya in 2018, after shutting it three years earlier following the kidnapping of 10 Tunisian diplomats.
The Libyan militia which carried out the 2015 kidnapping had demanded the release of one of its leaders, Walid Glib, detained in Tunisia as part of a counter-terrorism investigation.
The diplomats were released after several days and Glib was later deported to Tripoli.