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Foreign ministry denies ‘prisoner swap’ with Libya

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Egyptian diplomats set to return to Cairo and former Libyan rebel leader announces his release on television

A soldier from the Libyan army mans a checkpoint in the capital Tripoli on January 26, 2014. Egypt's ambassador and his staff have left Libya for security reasons after the kidnapping of five of their colleagues, the foreign ministry said. The evacuation had been decided on security grounds, he said, as Libyan authorities worked to secure the release of the abducted diplomats.  (AFP PHOTO/MAHMUD TURKIA)

A soldier from the Libyan army mans a checkpoint in the capital Tripoli on January 26, 2014.
(AFP PHOTO/MAHMUD TURKIA)

Egypt has denied reports claiming that a “prisoner swap”, involving a former Libyan rebel leader, resulted in the release of six Egyptians who were kidnapped in Libya last Friday and Saturday.

The five diplomats and one security guard were released following rebel leader Shaaban Hadeia’s announcement on television that he had been released, according to AFP.

Spokesman for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs Badr Abdelatty told Daily News Egypt on Monday that the five diplomats were safe and waiting at the Libyan Ministry of Interior. He added that he was hopeful they would return to Egypt by Monday evening. The sixth man, an Egyptian national working as security guard for the embassy in Tripol also returned safely to his home in Tripoli, said Abdelatty.

A Libyan security official told AFP on the condition of anonymity that the release of the six Egyptians was part of a deal between Tripoli and Cairo. Abdelatty denied that this was the case, stressing that Hadeia’s detention and the kidnappings were “separate issues”. He did not elaborate further on the conditions of Hadeia’s release, pointing to a Sunday statement from the Ministry of Interior explaining the former rebel leader was detained to “examine the reasons for his continued existence in the country despite the end of the legality of his residency [visa]”.

The Ministry of Interior was not available to comment on the conditions of Hadeia’s release.

The kidnappers had given the Egyptian government a 24 hour ultimatum on Saturday evening during a phone call to Saudi Arabian owned satellite channel Al-Arabiya. Abdelatty downplayed the ultimatum on Sunday saying it was “nothing serious” but stressed that contacts were ongoing with the Libyan authorities to secure the release of the kidnapped Egyptians.

On Saturday the Libyan foreign ministry said that it was in contact with the Egyptian authorities to “find out the circumstances” of Hadeia’s arrest.

The first kidnapping occurred on Friday, and the remaining five were taken on Saturday. Some of the captives spoke during the kidnappers’ phone call to Al-Arabiya confirming their names and positions at the embassy.

Egypt’s diplomatic staff members were evacuated from Libya as a security precaution that the Egyptian ministry affirmed would not impact upon relations with the neighbouring country.

Hadeia, also known as Abu Obeida, is the head of former rebel group Libyan Revolutionaries Operations Room (LROR) that was involved in the fighting to overthrow former Libyan President Muammar Gaddafi in 2011. After the uprising the Libyan military co-opted many rebel groups in an attempt to restore stability, however, they have been known to act unilaterally. LROR is thought to have been behind the kidnapping of Libyan Prime Minister Ali Zeidan in October last year, according to Tripoli based reporter Callum Paton.

About the author

Joel Gulhane

News Reporter

Joel Gulhane is a journalist with an interest in Egyptian and regional politics. Follow him on Twitter @jgulhane


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