Egyptians kidnapped by Libyan gunmen over business dispute

AL-HERDA - Armed men in an eastern Libyan city have kidnapped 16 Egyptian workers over a financial dispute between Libyan contractors and their Egyptian partner, residents of the workers' home village said.

The incident revived concerns over the fate of thousands of Egyptians, most of them working as cheap laborers, in Libya -- a country torn by lawlessness since Western-backed rebels toppled Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi in 2011.

Egyptian officials were not immediately available to comment.

Residents of the small village which the kidnapped workers came from -- Al-Herda in the Nile Delta province of Kafr el-Sheikh -- said that three of the hostages had escaped their captors but their whereabouts were not known.

The workers were seized four days ago in the city of Tobruk, on Libya's eastern Mediterranean coast by unknown gunmen after Libyan contractors accused a business partner from the same Egyptian village as the kidnapped men of fleeing the country after he stole 100,000 Libyan dinars ($72,000).

The kidnappers have told the village residents through mediators that the men would be freed once the Egyptian businessman returned the money, residents said.