TUNIS, Tunisia— Ten Tunisian diplomats seized by Libyan gunmen have been released and are flying home, Tunisia’s foreign minister said Friday, while denying that they had been traded for a Libyan militia leader.
Libyan militia leader Walid Klib, who was detained in Tunisia last month on terrorism charges, was extradited to Libya in the early hours of the morning, according to his lawyer, Wissem Saidi. The two incidents have been linked by the Libyans, who said the freeing of the diplomats was conditional on Klib’s release.
“The page of the Tunisian consulate will be turned and they will return to their families when God willing the revolutionary hero Walid Klib returns to his family,” Jamal Zubia, spokesman for Libya’s Tripoli-based government, had said on his Facebook page Wednesday.
Libya has been divided between rival governments and hundreds of militias in the aftermath of its 2011 civil war that ousted dictator Moammar Gadhafi.
An Islamist-led government backed by militias seized Tripoli last August, and Libya’s internationally recognized parliament — which was forced out — now convenes in the eastern city of Tobruk.
The Libyan Dawn militia in May detained 172 Tunisians working in Libya to push for Klib’s release. When that didn’t work, they stormed the Tunisian consulate on June 12.
The Tunisian government, however, has denied there was any kind of trade, maintaining that Klib’s extradition was legal under a 1961 convention between the two countries.
“The Foreign Ministry had no link to this affair which relates to justice (ministry),” Foreign Minister Taieb Baccouche told Tunisian radio, without elaborating.
The Foreign Ministry has warned Tunisians not to travel to Libya under the current instability unless absolutely essential. Despite the dangers, an estimated 60,000 Tunisians work there.
Associated Press reporter Maggie Michael contributed to this report from Cairo.