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Kidnapped Tunisian embassy workers freed in Libya

By Tarek Amara and Patrick Markey

TUNIS (Reuters) - A Tunisian diplomat and an embassy worker kidnapped earlier this year by unknown gunmen in Libya arrived at dawn on Monday at a Tunis airport after being freed on Sunday.

With Libya's government weak and its armed forces still in formation, armed groups have targeted foreign diplomats for abduction this year to pressure for the release of Libyan militants held in jails overseas.

The Tunisian diplomat who worked as an advisor to the embassy was kidnapped in Tripoli in April. The other embassy official was taken separately.

"The kidnapped victims have been released and they will be with their families shortly. Right now they are with us at the embassy," the ambassador, Ridha Boukadhi, told Reuters by telephone.

The Tunisian diplomat had been kidnapped just two days after gunmen also took the Jordanian ambassador after they shot and wounded his driver in the Libyan capital.

In Aouina presidential airport in Tunis, President Moncef Marzouki and Prime Minister Mehdi Jomaa welcomed the two Tunisians who arrived in a military plane.

“Tunisia does not leave her sons, we thank the Libyans who helped in the release. a few months ago we shared the grief and now share the joy of their return today”, Marzouki said in a speech in airport.

Kidnappers freed the Jordanian envoy in May after a handover of a Libyan Islamist militant who had been serving a life sentence for a bombing plot in Jordan.

The Tunisian foreign minister Mongi Hamdi told journalists at a press conference that his country did not negotiate with the kidnappers and they negotiated only with the official authorities in Libya.

“We maintained the prestige of our state", he added.

Three years after the fall of Muammar Gaddafi Libya is still struggling with insecurity and chaos with brigades of former rebels and militias refusing to disarm and often challenging the state with political demands.

(Reporting by Tarek Amara; Writing by Patrick Markey; Editing by Greg Mahlich and Diane Craft)

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