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Tunisian oil workers kidnapped in Libya have been freed, says consul

Mahmud Turkia, AFP | A damaged house after it was reportedly hit by a rocket, on May 6, 2015, in the coastal town of Zawiya, west of Tripoli. Libya has been riven by conflict since the 2011 uprising that toppled and killed dictator Moamer Kadhafi.

Fourteen Tunisian oil workers kidnapped in Libya were freed Sunday night after three days in captivity and are in good health, the Tunisian consul in country said.

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Armed men seized the 14 Tunisians from a bus on Thursday as they were heading to work at an oil refinery in Zawiya, just to the west of the Libyan capital.

The consul, Taoufik al-Guesmi, did not disclose the conditions for the release of the workers, whose abductors had demanded a man jailed in Tunisia be released from prison.

But a security source in Zawiya confirmed the news of their release, saying the hostages had been freed in an operation carried out by the town's security forces.

The forces "stormed the place where they were being held and were able to release them without fighting, no casualties," Thamer Mounir, head of the media section of the Zawiya security service, told AFP.

Mounir was unable to say if any arrests had taken place.

Earlier Sunday, in a video posted on social media, the kidnappers had demanded the release of a man jailed in Tunisia for drug trafficking.

The video, verified by a Tunisian source close to the case, showed the abductees identifying themselves and naming their hometowns while sitting on mattresses.

The last one then says that the people holding them want the release of Libyan Kamal al-Lafi al-Hijaoui, adding that he and the other abductees were "in good health".

A Tunisian source said Hijaoui had been sentenced this month in Tunisia to 20 months in prison for drug trafficking.

Zawiya is held by armed groups, including some who are involved in people-smuggling rings or the contraband sale of fuel.

Abductions are common in Libya, which has been mired in chaos since the fall of dictator Moamer Kadhafi in a 2011 NATO-backed uprising.

The kidnappings are usually carried out by armed groups which demand a ransom.

In June 2015, 10 Tunisian consular staff were abducted by a militia. They were eventually released in exchange for one of its members who was held in Tunis.

Libya's interior ministry has set up a "crisis cell" in response to the latest abductions.

(AFP)

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