TUNIS (Reuters) - Gunmen have kidnapped dozens of Tunisians in western Libya to demand the release of a Libyan arrested in Tunisia, families and authorities said on Thursday. With Libya caught in chaos as two rival governments struggle for control, armed groups have often kidnapped foreign nationals and even diplomats in the past to demand the release of captured Libyans overseas. Tunisia’s foreign ministry confirmed the kidnapping and said it was in contact with the Libyan authorities to try and secure the release of its nationals in the neighbouring country. It did not give any details about a detained Libyan suspect. “Gunmen kidnapped my father since Sunday.. they want the release a Libyan arrested in Tunisia,” Yosra Boubaker, the daughter of one of the detained Tunisians told local television. Mustapha Abd El Kebir, a Tunisian human rights activist with contacts in Libya, said as many as 50 Tunisians were being held in Washafana, an area west of Tripoli and the site of recent fighting between rival armed factions. Earlier this year an armed group stormed the Tunisian consulate in Tripoli and kidnapped 10 staff before releasing them. Tunisia closed the consulate after the kidnapping. Armed groups in Libya often act with impunity because of a security vacuum in which the two rival governments and their armed backers fight for control of the North African state four years after Muammar Gaddafi’s fall from power. Relations between the North African neighbours have become increasingly tense, with Tunisia’s government worried about spillover from Libya’s chaos and the flow of Islamist militants training in camps over the border.
Reporting by Tarek Amara; Editing by Patrick Markey and Toby Chopra