TUNIS (Reuters) - Three of 10 Tunisian consular staff kidnapped in Libya last week have been freed and negotiations over the other hostages are continuing, a Libyan official and a Tunisian source said on Tuesday.
Gunmen stormed the Tunisian consulate on Friday in Tripoli, where armed factions have in the past seized diplomats and foreigners to exert pressure on their governments to free Libyan militants held in jails abroad.
Tunisia is one of the few countries to keep a diplomatic presence in Tripoli since an armed faction called Libya Dawn took over the capital last year and forced the internationally recognized government to flee to the east of the country.
No group has claimed responsibility for the kidnapping, but Tunisian authorities last month arrested Walid Kalib, a member of Libya Dawn. A Tunisian court refused to release Kalib, who faces kidnapping charges in Tunisia.
“Three diplomats have been freed yesterday after they were kidnapped in the capital Tripoli,” a Libyan diplomatic police official, Faraj Swhili, told Reuters. “The other seven diplomats will be released when the Libyan detainee in Tunis, Walid Kalib, is released by Tunisian authorities.”
A Tunisian government source confirmed the release, but would not give any details about negotiations or conditions set by the captors.
Gunmen have kidnapped Egyptian, Jordanian and Tunisian diplomats and citizens in the past. Most diplomats left the country after Libya Dawn, a loose alliance of former rebel brigades and Islamist-leaning groups, seized power in Tripoli.
Four years after the fall of veteran ruler Muammar Gaddafi, Libya has slowly tumbled into crisis, with former brigades of rebels turning against each in a battle for control. The United Nations is trying to coax the two main factions into a unity government.
Reporting by Ahmed Elumami in Tripoli and Tarek Amara in Tunis; Writing by Patrick Markey; Editing by Mark Trevelyan