Gunmen attack UN convoy in Libya, briefly hold staff

2017-06-29 10:01
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Tripoli - Gunmen attacked a UN convoy near Libya's capital and abducted seven staff members on Wednesday before releasing them unharmed, a top security official in the conflict-wracked country said.

General Najmi al-Nakoua of the presidential guard service said the attack on the convoy took place near Zawiyah, about 50km west of the capital Tripoli.

"They have been released, they are all safe," after an ordeal lasting only a few hours, he told AFP.

The United Nations Support Mission in Libya (UNSMIL) confirmed the incident, saying "a UN convoy was hit today travelling between Surman and Tripoli" and added that it was later able to contact them and find out they were safe.

Lawmaker Abdallah al-Lafi, who was involved in the negotiations leading to the release of the UN personnel, said they were all "in good health".

But he said they were still with him at a police station in Surman, about 70 kilometres west of Tripoli, awaiting their transfer to the capital.

Lafi said the UN convoy was made up of five men - including one from Malaysia, another from Romania and three Libyans - and two women, an Egyptian and a Palestinian.

The assailants, he said, had abducted them in order to negotiate the release of relatives detained in Tripoli.

But "we were able to convince them to release the UN staff before any negotiations," he added.

Libya has been wracked by chaos since the 2011 uprising that toppled and killed longtime dictator Moamer Kadhafi, with rival authorities and militias battling for control of the oil-rich country.

The North African country has rival administrations, with the authorities in the east not recognising the UN-backed Government of National Accord (GNA) based in the capital.

Diplomats targeted 

In its statement, the UN mission to Libya said it had "made contact with the staff concerned. There are no reports of casualties among UN staff".

"UNSMIL thanks the Government of National Accord, House of Representative Members from Zawiyah and local authorities for their help in ensuring the safety of UN staff and is looking forward to their safe return to Tripoli.

"The UN remains committed to Libya and to supporting Libyans on their path to peace and stability," it added.

The British ambassador to Libya, Peter Millett, had expressed concern for the UN staffers on his Twitter account.

"Disturbed by attack on @UNSMILibya convoy. Hope all safe. UN staff represent international community's commitment to help #Libya-n people," he tweeted before the news of their release.

Diplomats in Libya have been targeted regularly by assailants and kidnappers since the uprising that ousted and killed Kadhafi.

On September 11, 2012, suspected jihadists linked to Al-Qaeda attacked the US consulate in Benghazi, in eastern Libya, killing ambassador Christopher Stevens and three other Americans.

By 2014, most diplomatic missions had left the North African country, including that of the United Nations.

UNSMIL is based in Tunis, the capital of neighbouring Tunisia, but its members regularly carry out missions inside Libya.

Read more on:    libya  |  north africa

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