Confusion remains over the number of Tunisians who were seized in Tripoli last weekend, allegedly by militias, and of those still being held.
It was initially reported that 172, most of them working in cafés and restaurants in the city, were rounded in the Salahaddin area in a bid to force Tunisia to release a Libyan militia leader detained at Tunis airport.
The commander, Walid Al-Ghleib, was released after a few hours later and there were reports that the Tunisians had then also been released. This, however, turned out to be untrue. They continued to be held until the middle of this week.
So far over 100 Tunisians have been released, Tunisian Foreign Minister Taieb Baccouche told the Tunisian news agency TAP today. Sixty were released on Wednesday and a further 40 yesterday.
Admitting that Tunisians had been detained, Nureddine Mishaal, the Libyan deputy interior minister in the Tripoli-based “government” who is responsible for the border crossings and immigration affairs, told TAP yesterday that others would be released shortly after their identities had been verified.
He claimed that the Tunisians had been detained following the launch of a campaign to check the legal status of Tunisians in Libya, declaring that those whose presence in the country was legal would be able to stay but those whose presence was illegal would be deported.
Accepting this story, the Tunisian foreign ministry has said that the Libyan campaign is targeted not just at Tunisians but all foreigners, and that the 60 had been released after verification of their status in Libya.
“As part of fighting terrorism and illegal immigration, the Libyan authorities carried out this security campaign of verifying the identities of foreigners in Libya,” the Tunisian Foreign Minister Baccouche said on Tunisian Watania TV last night, denying that the detained Tunisians had been “traded” for Ghleib. He called on Tunisians not to react negatively to Libyans in Tunisia in response.
For his part, the Tunisian Foreign Ministry spokesman, Mokhtar Chaouachi, has denied that a hundred Tunisians were still being held by the authorities in Tripoli. Speaking to a local radio station yesterday, he said only a few dozen were still detained. He also denied that the Tunisian consulate in Tripoli had been besieged by protesters, but did not say when this had supposedly happened or ho the protestors were supposed to have been.
The Tunisian foreign ministry was working closely with the Tripoli authorities to ensure the release of all Tunisians as soon as possible, he stressed.
Meanwhile, Ibrahim Rezgui, the Tunisian consul in Tripoli told Radio Tataouine yesterday that the Tunisians who had been released had been “treated well” and that he met with them personally to ensure they had returned to their places of work and homes safely.