TRIPOLI Five Egyptian diplomats kidnapped in Tripoli in retaliation for Egypt's arrest of a Libyan militia commander have been freed, Libyan Deputy Foreign Minister Abdul Razak Al-Grady said on Sunday.
The abduction of diplomats in the Libyan capital illustrated the fragility of government control over former rebels and militias who two years ago helped topple Muammar Gaddafi in a NATO-backed revolution.
Gunman snatched four Egyptian diplomatic staff from their homes in Tripoli on Saturday, including the cultural attaché, and kidnapped another on Friday, forcing Cairo to evacuate its embassy and its Benghazi consulate.
"All them have been freed," Grady told Reuters, without detailing how they were released.
He said three were already back home, and another three were on the way back to Tripoli. Five were diplomats and another man taken with them was an embassy employee.
Libya's government said earlier the diplomats had been snatched in reaction to the arrest of Shaban Hadia, commander of the Operations Room of Libya's Revolutionaries, a powerful militia in Libya.
Kidnappers on Saturday called Dubai-based Arab channel Al Arabiya, demanding Hadia's release in 24 hours, and put one of the Egyptian diplomats on the line to plead for the demands.
Heavily armed ex-fighters, militiamen and Islamist militants who battled Gaddafi forces in 2011 have refused to disarm and often remain more loyal to their brigades, tribal leaders or local regions than to the new Libyan government.
The Operations Room of Libya's Revolutionaries denied any involvement in the kidnapping. It is nominally under the control of the chief of staff to work with the armed forces, but the militia used military muscle to make political demands on the state in the past.
The group said Hadia was arrested while visiting Egypt with family for medical treatment. Egypt has said he had been detained, but no details were immediately available about whether he had been freed on Sunday.
The group was accused of briefly abducting Libyan Prime Minister Ali Zeidan in Tripoli in October last year. It initially claimed it had arrested the premier, but later denied that after he was released hours later.
(Additional reporting by Shadia Nasralla in Cairo; Editing by Mark Heinrich)