Libya militia release video of detained British journalists

TRIPOLI Wed Mar 14, 2012 6:49am GMT

1 of 2. In this picture taken on March 13, 2012 off television playback of a tape made available to Reuters, British journalists Gareth Montgomery-Johnson (L) and Nicholas Davies-Jones speak from an undisclosed location.

Credit: Reuters/Anis Mili

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TRIPOLI (Reuters) - A Libyan militia released on Tuesday a video of two British journalists held on suspicion of spying, in which they apologised for entering the North African country illegally.

Nicholas Davies-Jones and Gareth Montgomery-Johnson, who were working for Iran's English-language Press TV, were detained on February 22 by the Swehli brigade, one of dozens of militias which helped to force out Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi last year.

In a video message, which Davies-Jones dated as March 12, the journalists said they were being treated well.

"We would like to apologise to Libyan authorities because we have entered the country illegally without a visa," Davies-Jones said in the video obtained by Reuters. "We hope to see our families fairly soon."

While both seemed calm and appeared in good physical shape as they spoke sitting on a couch, it was not clear whether they were speaking freely.

Earlier this month, the Swehli militia said the Britons, initially detained for illegal entry into Libya, were now suspected of spying.

There was no reference to this in the video message.

In a separate video obtained by Reuters, the two journalists were shown carrying luggage as they entered a white SUV, which drove out of the militia's base, a former women's military academy in Tripoli. It was not clear when that video was filmed.

Swehli brigade spokesman Mohammed al-Swehli told Reuters the two Britons, along with a Libyan driver as well as a Libyan translator, had been transferred to National Transitional Council (NTC) authorities on Tuesday.

"They have been handed over to the NTC," he said, without giving further details. "They are not our responsibility anymore."

However, an NTC spokesman could not confirm they had received the journalists in their custody.

Last week, commander Faraj al-Swehli told Reuters the pair were being questioned by his own investigators and that they had regular visits from the British consul.

International rights campaigners including Amnesty International and Reporters Without Borders have said the two Britons have been detained illegally, and have called on the militia either to release them immediately or transfer them to the custody of the official Libyan authorities.

The fact they have been held by a militia - which has no official status - is emblematic of the instability and weak central government control in Libya since last year's rebellion ended Gaddafi's rule with help from NATO air strikes.

(Reporting by Ali Shuaib; editing by David Stamp)

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