TRIPOLI, July 15 (Reuters) - Two Libyan journalists kidnapped in a former stronghold of ousted leader Muammar Gaddafi while covering the country’s elections last week have been released, a colleague and an official mediating in the stand-off said on Sunday.
Reporter-cameraman Abdelqadir Fassouk and cameraman Yusuf Badi disappeared on July 7 near Bani Walid - one of the last Gaddafi strongholds to fall during an eight-month uprising.
The journalists, who work for the Misrata-based Tobacts TV station, had been covering Libya’s historic election for a 200-seat national assembly in the western town of Mizdah and were on their way back to Misrata when contact with them was lost.
“They have left Bani Walid by helicopter to Jadu and later on they will travel to Misrata,” said Fathi Yussef, part of a team from the western town of Jadu which arrived in Bani Walid on Saturday to negotiate the journalists’ release.
Yussef said some detainees from Bani Walid being held in Misrata would be released later as part of the negotiations.
Since the end of last year’s uprising against Gaddafi, the interim government has struggled to control a myriad armed groups who refuse to lay down their weapons and often take the law into their own hands and detain people.
Misrata was one of the first cities to join the revolt against Gaddafi and has a history of rivalry with Bani Walid.
Local media said the captors of the journalists demanded the release of detainees in Misrata in return for freeing them.
Omar Ghadaj, director of news at Tobacts TV, confirmed his colleagues’ release. “Delegates from Jadu received them, they will be taken to Misrata later.”
A group of elders had met Prime Minister Abdurrahim El-Keib on Saturday night to discuss the journalists.
Talks to free them collapsed last week hours before a deadline given by a militia in Misrata for their release was due to be reached. The militia had threatened to attack Bani Walid and free the men by force.
“We have agreed that we need to find a solution for this not to happen again. Elders from Bani Walid and Misrata will meet to discuss and try to solve the problems,” Jibril Grimida, a spokesman for Bani Walid local council, said on Sunday. (Reporting by Ali Shuaib; Writing by Marie-Louise Gumuchian; Editing by Pravin Char)