TRIPOLI, Libya (AP) — Gunmen kidnapped two Italians working for a telecommunications company in eastern Libya, the official state news agency said Saturday.
The agency quoted their driver describing the kidnapping, saying that masked gunmen forced the Italians out of the vehicle at gunpoint on the road between the eastern cities of Derna and Tobruk on Friday.
A colleague told the agency that the abducted worked for a private cable company that does works for the Communication Ministry. The motive for the kidnapping was not clear.
Since the end of its 2011 uprising, Libya's central government virtually has collapsed and it lacks an efficient police force and military. Rebel forces and militias quickly filled the security vacuum left after the downfall of Moammar Gadhafi. The armed bands regularly use violence to intimidate officials to sway policies, gunning down security officials and kidnapping their relatives. Libya's prime minister himself was briefly kidnapped in October.
Late Friday, residents of the nearby town of Martouba blocked the road with sandbags, protesting the abduction of the Italians.
Meanwhile, three soldiers were killed in clashes in the restive southern city of Sabha, a stronghold for former loyalists of late dictator Moammar Gadhafi, a military official said. The official said four soldiers were wounded in the clashes that continued for the second day Saturday after an earlier truce failed. The clashes were sparked by revenge attacks between the African-origin Tabu tribe and the Arab-origin Awlad Soliman.
The official said assailants attacked at least two military bases in the city. He spoke on condition of anonymity because he wasn't authorized to brief journalists.
Earlier this week, fighting in Sabha killed 31 people. The city was one of the last to fall under rebel control during Libya's civil war.