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Libya frees AFP Nairobi journalist

TRIPOLI, Mar 23 – Three journalists including two AFP employees held by Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi\’s forces since the weekend were released in Tripoli early on Wednesday.

Their release follows that of four New York Times reporters detained last week by government forces, but four journalists with Al-Jazeera remain in detention. At least two journalists have been killed in the conflict.

Reporter Dave Clark and photographer Roberto Schmidt from AFP and Getty photographer Joe Raedle arrived at the Rixos hotel in downtown Tripoli, where they were met by one of their colleagues.

AFP chairman Emmanuel Hoog said there was "deep rejoicing" at the release of the trio, "who have regained the liberty to live their lives and practise their profession".

"This liberation is the fruit of the mobilisation of the entire AFP editorial staff and the agency as a whole," he said.

Paris-based Clark, 38, a former Baghdad bureau chief, has been in Libya since March 8. Schmidt, 45, who normally works out of AFP\’s Nairobi bureau, arrived in the country on February 28. Raedle, a US citizen, is also 45.

They had vanished at the weekend after driving from Tobruk to report on fighting between Gaddafi forces and eastern rebels. Their driver said Monday that they were seized by soldiers loyal to Gaddafi.

Just prior to their release, a Gaddafi spokesman said the veteran leader had received an appeal from the AFP chairman, "and the leader basically asked the Libyan state and government to release these journalists".

"They were treated very well indeed. They were checked for the health and the well-being, and they were brought to Tripoli," spokesman Mussa Ibrahim said.

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Hoog thanked the Libyan government for its "promptness, following my urgent request, in freeing the journalists whose sole mission was to report on the situation currently playing out in Libya".

Getty Images also issued a statement expressing "delight" at the release of the trio.

Driver Mohammed Hamed told AFP that on Saturday morning he took Briton Clark, Schmidt, who is of Colombian-German nationality, and Raedle from Tobruk towards the town of Ajdabiya.

A few dozen kilometres (miles) from Ajdabiya they encountered a convoy of military jeeps and transport vehicles.

They turned around, but were intercepted by the soldiers who forcibly detained them, the driver said.

Four soldiers forced them from their vehicle at gunpoint as Clark said "Sahafa, sahafa" – Arabic for journalist.

They were ordered to kneel on the side of the road with their hands on their heads before being bundled into another vehicle and driven off to an unknown destination.

Since the February 15 start of the insurrection against Gaddafi\’s regime, a number of foreign journalists have been arrested in Libya.

The four New York Times reporters, who were detained last week during the fighting between government and rebel forces, left the country safely on Monday after Turkey helped to secure their release, the newspaper said.

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On Saturday, the Qatar-based Al-Jazeera television network said four of its journalists, including a Norwegian and a Briton, were being held in Tripoli after being arrested in western Libya.

Al-Jazeera cameraman Ali Hassan al-Jaber was killed on March 12 in an ambush near the rebel stronghold of Benghazi – the first reported death of a journalist working for foreign media in Libya since the start of the uprising.

Mohammed al-Nabbous, 28, who founded a Libyan online news channel, was shot dead by snipers on Saturday while Benghazi was under attack from Gaddafi\’s forces.

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