Indonesian crew returns home after Benghazi abduction

Indonesian foreign minister Retno Marsudi (in white) had a chat with families of six Indonesian sailors released from six-month captivity by militants in Benghazi.
Updated 06 April 2018
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Indonesian crew returns home after Benghazi abduction

  • Crew members reunite with their families in Jakarta after being held hostage by militants in Libya for six months.
  • In December, the Indonesian Embassy in Tripoli finally secured direct access to the militia in Benghazi
JAKARTA: Embun Diarsih had been used to being in touch once a week with her husband Ronny William, a sailor for 35 years.
But in September 2017, after William did not contact her for two weeks, her worries were confirmed when one of his fellow sailors told her that the Malta-flagged fishing vessel on which William was working had been hijacked near Benghazi, Libya.
“I hadn’t heard from my husband for two weeks, then I had a call from his friend, an Indonesian sailor who was also working on a fishing vessel in Europe, he told me that the boat in which my husband was working on had been hijacked near Benghazi,” Embun told Arab News at the foreign ministry on Monday where Foreign Minister Retno Marsudi officially handed over William and five other crew members to their families.
Diarsih told Arab News that she immediately told Indonesian authorities about the abduction.
William told Arab News that he and his fellow crew members sailed from Malta to look for fishing grounds.
The Salvatur VI vessel was seized by a Benghazi-based militia on Sept. 23 last year about 23 miles off the Libyan coast.
The militiamen seized everything, including communication devices and the crew’s personal belongings.
“Since the vessel didn’t have any means of communication, the Indonesian government only found out about the hijacking on Sept. 28 from the vessel’s owner, who contacted the Indonesian Embassy in Rome,” said the Foreign Ministry’s director for the protection of Indonesians abroad, Lalu Muhammad Iqbal.
Indonesian authorities, including officials from the state intelligence agency BIN, tried to contact the militia to gain access to the crew.
In December, the Indonesian Embassy in Tripoli finally secured direct access to the militia in Benghazi, which gave approval for communication with the crew. That “enabled us to get proof of life and to monitor their condition,” Iqbal said.
Diarsih said that was when she was finally able to talk to her husband again, after waiting for three months.
“I just waited and waited. I understand it’s a conflict area and the process was difficult,” she added.
Following months of intensive communication with various parties in Benghazi, Indonesian officials reached an understanding with them on how to extract the hostages.
“On March 27… the six crew were handed over to us at the port of Benghazi,” Foreign Minister Retno Marsudi said, adding that the whole process was delicate given the complex political situation in Libya.
William said they survived on the run-down boat by fishing, and they asked one of the militiamen assigned to guard them to sell some of the fish they caught in the market, and to use the money to buy rice and other provisions.
“Until December, we witnessed clashes between the militia… and Daesh militants. A bomb fell not far from the boat where we were held captive,” he added.
“The port and the city are in ruins. It’s like a dead town. There were decayed boats and damaged buildings everywhere.”
Marsudi said the Foreign Ministry is continuing to communicate with the boat’s owner in Malta, adding: “We will make sure that the crewmen’s rights are fulfilled.”


 


Libya reopens Tripoli’s only functioning airport

Updated 10 min 54 sec ago
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Libya reopens Tripoli’s only functioning airport

  • Mitiga airport was closed earlier in the day when residents reported an air strike on the Libyan capital
  • Mitiga airport offers air links to a city of an estimated 2.5 million residents

TRIPOLI: Libya has reopened Tripoli’s only functioning airport, aviation authorities said on a post on social media on Sunday.

Mitiga airport was closed earlier in the day when residents reported an air strike on the Libyan capital, but a later Facebook post noted the arrival of an African Airlines aircraft from Istanbul.

A Reuters reporter and several residents said they saw an aircraft circling for more than 10 minutes over the capital late on Saturday, and that it made a humming sound before opening fire on several areas.

An aircraft was heard again after midnight, circling for more than ten minutes before a heavy explosion shook the ground.

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It was not clear whether an aircraft or unmanned drone was behind the strike, which triggered heavy anti-aircraft fire. Residents had reported drone strikes in recent days, but there has been no confirmation and explosions heard in the city center this time were louder than in previous days.

Residents counted several missile strikes, one of which apparently hit a military camp of forces loyal to Tripoli in the Sabaa district in the south of the capital, scene of the heaviest fighting between the rival forces.

Authorities earlier closed Tripoli’s only functioning airport, cutting air links to a city of an estimated 2.5 million residents. The airport in Misrata, a city 200 km to the east, remained open.

The Libyan National Army (LNA) force loyal to commander Khalifa Haftar started an offensive two weeks ago but has been unable to breach the government’s southern defenses.

If a drone strike was confirmed this would point to more sophisticated warfare. The LNA has so far mainly used aging Soviet-made jets from the air force of Muammar Qaddafi, toppled in 2011, lacking precision firepower and helicopters, according to residents and military sources.

The violence spiked after the White House said on Friday that US President Donald Trump spoke by telephone with Haftar earlier in the week.

The disclosure of the call and a US statement that it “recognized Field Marshal Haftar’s significant role in fighting terrorism and securing Libya’s oil resources” has boosted the commander’s supporters and enraged his opponents.

Western powers have been divided over a push by Haftar’s forces to seize Tripoli, undermining calls by the United Nations for a cease-fire.

Both sides claimed progress in southern Tripoli on Saturday, but no more details were immediately available.

A Reuters TV cameraman visiting the southern Khalat Furgan suburb heard heavy shelling but saw no apparent change in the frontline.

On Friday, two children were killed in shelling in southern Tripoli, residents said. The fighting has killed 227 people and wounded 1,128, the World Health organization said before the air strikes.

On Thursday, both the United States and Russia said they could not support a UN Security Council resolution calling for a cease-fire in Libya at this time.

Russia objects to the British-drafted resolution blaming Haftar for the latest flare-up in violence when his LNA advanced to the outskirts of Tripoli earlier this month, diplomats said.

The United States did not give a reason for its decision not to support the draft resolution, which would also call on countries with influence over the warring parties to ensure compliance and for unconditional humanitarian aid access in Libya.