By Ali Shuaib
TRIPOLI (Reuters) - Libyan authorities on Wednesday told the captors of two journalists kidnapped while covering the election for a national assembly to release them or face the use of force.
Since last year's uprising against Muammar Gaddafi, the interim government has struggled to impose its authority on a myriad of armed groups who refuse to lay down their weapons and often take the law into their own hands and detain people.
Reporter-cameraman Abdelqadir Fassouk and cameraman Yusuf Badi, who work for the Misrata-based Tobacts TV station, disappeared on Saturday near Bani Walid, one of the last Gaddafi strongholds to fall during last year's uprising
They had been covering Libya's landmark election for a 200-seat national assembly in the western town of Mizdah and were on their way back to their TV station when contact with them was lost.
"We urge the people of Bani Walid to release the two journalists held as a sign of good intention or else the government will be forced to impose its authority," National Transitional Council official spokesman Saleh Darhoub told reporters.
Salem Qanan, a deputy of NTC Chairman Mustafa Abdel Jalil, told Reuters the government would not be afraid to use force.
"By authority we mean police, army and all brigades that have joined the umbrella of the government's security forces," he said.
The stand-off underlines the tensions facing Libya nine months after the ousting and death of Gaddafi. While Bani Walid was a former Gaddafi stronghold, Misrata was one of the first cities to protest against his rule.
Local media said the captors of the two reporters demanded the release of detainees in Misrata in return for freeing them.
Libya's Al-Assama television quoted Bani Walid military chief Salim Al-Waar as saying he would guarantee the reporters' safety and return them to Misrata at some point in the future.
Militia fighters in Misrata had initially threatened to enter Bani Walid to forcibly liberate the two reporters. But Al-Assama quoted the local military chief in Misrata as saying he had ordered fighters to hold back from any such action for now.
(Writing by Mark John; Editing by Janet Lawrence)