SEOUL: Four hostages who were kidnapped last July in Libya have been freed, the South Korean president’s office said Friday.
A South Korean and three Filipinos had been working at a water project site when they were seized by armed men.
“The South Korean worker was freed safely Wednesday afternoon, 315 days after he was abducted by a score of armed men in Libya,” Chung Eui-yong, director of the National Security Office, said at a press briefing. “Abducting a foreigner is an inhumane crime that can never be accepted by the international community.”
Chung said the kidnappers were confirmed to be members of a criminal group based in southern Libya, saying the government was still investigating the details of the kidnapping and captivity.
The South Korean worker, identified by his surname Joo, was in Abu Dhabi and is scheduled to return home on Saturday.
Chung said the UAE had played a major role in the release of the hostages.
“In particular I convey a message of special thanks from President Moon Jae-in to the UAE government and Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed Al- Nahyan for playing a decisive role in the release of Joo and other hostages without sparing any possible support.”
Moon had asked the crown prince for help with the hostage situation during a summit in February, Chung added.
The president appointed his closest aide, Lim Jong-seok, as his special envoy in the UAE in a reshuffle after the summit.
The UAE Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation said intensive efforts in coordination with the Libyan National Army led to the release of the four hostages.
“Upon receiving requests from the Philippines and South Korea, the UAE communicated with the Libyan National Army to work on releasing them and to ensure their safety. In this case, they (armed groups) did not consider that these civilians work for companies that are serving national interests of Libya and its people. The release of these innocents means reuniting them with their families, and getting them back home after a long period of suffering.”
Armed groups seized control of different parts of Libya after the toppling of authoritarian leader Muammar Qaddafi in 2011.
The country has two rival administrations - one based in the east and the other in the capital, Tripoli. The Libyan National Army is known to be aligned with the eastern administration, and is fighting to drive out militias that have held Tripoli since the uprising.
Seoul’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs said Joo was in good health although his eyesight had suffered because he had been held in an enclosed space with no sunlight.
“Joo said he felt sorry as many South Korean people were worried about him,” a senior ministry official told Arab News on condition of anonymity. “He said he felt as if he had been held for 900 days, not 315 days.
The official said no ransom was paid to the kidnappers without elaborating further.
Joo had been working in Libya for decades despite Seoul imposing travel restrictions in 2014, the official added.
The government took stronger measures for South Korean travelers to Libya, including revoking their passports, following Joo’s abduction.
“There are still four South Korean nationals in Libya, citing livelihood concerns,” said the official.
South Korea’s navy had previously dispatched a 4,000-ton destroyer to waters off Libya to conduct potential hostage release operations.
“We considered all options on the table to secure the release of hostages,” another ministry official told Arab News. “As Libya is in the middle of a civil war, the country has been thrown into almost a state of anarchy, so we put a priority on negotiations.”