Two foreign oil workers kidnapped in Libya have been released, after nearly a year in captivity when they were reportedly seized by a Misratan armed group just west of Tripoli.
Austrian national Alexander Haas and Serbian Babic Radoslav Srja were safely transported to Malta on Tuesday, after months of negotiations between the Maltese, Libyan, Austrian and Serbian authorities and security services.
The two both work for Argus Security Company that was hired by Italian oil and gas company ENI in Libya. They were taken in March last year just west of the capital by fighters from the western city of Misrata.
Austrian Ministry of Foreign Affairs said they were released following “diplomatic pressures” and confirmed that Haas had arrived back to Vienna on Wednesday.
Former German minister Bernd Schmidbauer, who had worked as a government coordinator for the German intelligence services in the 1990s, helped broker the prisoner swap to ensure their release, Libya Herald reported. No ransom has been mentioned.
The Austrian authorities said they they had been taken by security forces due “diverse suspicions”.
“We were never told what kind of suspicions these were,” the foreign ministry statement read.
In the same month the pair were abducted five others were also kidnapped from Ghani oil field near the town of Zella, some 740km south-east of Tripoli.
The group – which including an Austrian, a Czech and at least four Filipino workers, were seized after IS militants attacked Ghani, and their fate remains unknown.
Two Bangladeshis who were taken with them were later freed.
The Libyan authorities have been powerless to stop almost daily kidnappings by Libya’s many armed groups, as the country has tumbled into civil war.
Militias of ex-rebels – many of whom were once tasked with securing the country but whose mandates have expired – have effectively carved up the country into personal fiefdoms.
Last year Amnesty reported that between February 2014 and April 2015 there were at least 600 known cases of kidnappings – the fate of 378 of the missing remain unknown.
The global rights group pointed to the total collapse of central authority and the absence of law enforcement and a functioning justice system for what it called “routine abductions”.
Many people are taken by rival militias for their political leanings and affiliations with Libya’s rival administrations. Several armed groups also fund activities through kidnapping for ransom. Meanwhile terror groups like IS and al-Qaeda have also engaged in mass kidnappings.
Two Tunisian journalists Sofiene Chourabi and Nadhir Ktari who disappeared in September 2014 in East Libya are thought to be in IS’s custody. Their fate is also unknown.