14 Tunisian oil refinery workers have been kidnapped near the Libyan capital by militiamen who are demanding the release of a comrade held in Tunisia, a human rights activist said on Saturday, February 16th.
AFP cited a diplomatic source and Libya's Tripoli-based government of national accord confirmed that 14 workers had been taken hostage.
On its Facebook page, Tunisia's foreign ministry said it is following the case of the Tunisian citizens kidnapped by armed Libyan elements near Zawiya.
It added that: “Tunisia's foreign 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.”
Rights activist Mustapha Abdelkebir said the armed group behind Thursday February 14th kidnapping was demanding the release of one of its members held in Tunisia.
The GNA's interior ministry had set up a crisis cell in Zawiya to establish the necessary measures and contacts to guarantee the safe release of Tunisians without conditions, according to AFP.
Since 2011, Libya has been in chaos after the fall of dictator Muammar Gaddafi through a 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 Zawiya, where the Tunisians are believed held hostages, has 20,000 residents and is controlled by armed groups nominally under the authority of the GNA, some of whom are involved in fuel smuggling and people trafficking.
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.