Tunisia shuts Libyan consulate over staff's abductions

10 staffers kidnapped when militia gunmen burst into the consulate in the Libyan capital were freed.

By (AFP)

Published: Fri 19 Jun 2015, 8:37 PM

Last updated: Wed 8 Jul 2015, 3:07 PM

A Tunisian diplomatic staff who was kidnapped along with other colleagues in Libya a week ago, is greeted by his family members after arriving at the airport in Tunis. -Reuters

Tunis - Tunisia said on Friday it was shutting its consulate in conflict-hit Libya as 10 staffers abducted by an armed militia in Tripoli were heading home after a week in captivity.

The staff were seized when the gunmen burst into the consulate in the Libyan capital, in the latest attack targeting foreign citizens and diplomatic missions in the lawless nation.

Libya descended into chaos after a revolt unseated longtime dictator Muamer Gaddafi in 2011.

It now has rival governments and parliaments, as well as powerful militias battling for influence and a share of its oil wealth, including the Fajr Libya militia alliance that controls Tripoli.

Tunisian Foreign Minister Taieb Baccouche said the decision to shut the consulate was taken after the June 12 abduction of the staffers, although all 10 of them had been freed and were on their way home.

“After this serious incident (kidnapping), we have decided to close the consulate in Tripoli,” Baccouche told reporters.

He was speaking at the L’Aouina military airport in Tunis, as he awaited the return of the former hostages.

“We will not reopen the consulate as long as protection for our civil servants is not guaranteed,” Baccouche said.

“When that protection becomes available, we will rethink” our options, said Baccouche, whose country has a consulate in Tripoli and another in the east of Libya.

Baccouche had earlier announced on radio that the 10 staffers had been released — three of them on Wednesday and the rest on Friday — by their captors and were on their way home.

Their release comes as Tunisian officials and media reports said a Libyan militia leader detained in Tunisia would be deported as part of a deal with the kidnappers.

The prosecutor’s office said that the man, identified in media reports as Walid Glib, had been detained on suspicion of “involvement in terrorist affairs”.

Spokesman Karim Chebbi said the “criminal division of the Tunisian Court of Appeal on Wednesday decided on his provisional expulsion at the request of the Libyan authorities”.

But Baccouche denied any deal was struck with the kidnappers in exchange for the release of the consular workers.

He said that the case of Glib, who had been arrested in May upon his arrival in Tunisia, was in the “hands of the judiciary”.

Last month, militiamen allegedly linked to Glib seized 245 Tunisians in Tripoli to put pressure on Tunis for his release, but they were later freed unharmed.

Foreign citizens and missions have been frequently targeted in Libya, including in Tripoli which was overrun last year by Fajr Libya following fierce clashes with rival militias.

The fighting sparked an exodus of foreigners, and many embassies were shut as Fajr Libya installed a government last year opposed to the internationally recognised administration.

The Daesh group has taken advantage of the chaos to gain supporters in Libya.

Daesh claimed responsibility for twin attacks in April, one on the South Korean embassy that killed two Libyans and another on the Moroccan mission that caused no casualties.

In January, the Libyan branch of the militant group claimed the killing of two Tunisian journalists who had gone missing in eastern Libya eight months earlier.

And last year a Tunisian diplomat and an embassy employee were kidnapped by an armed group before being released.

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