The Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade says it's been told there have been no arrests over the death of a Kiwi woman in Libya, contrary to reports.
Wellington mother-of-two Lynn Howie and her partner Mark De Salis were having a picnic on a beach near the city of Sabratha, about 100km from Tripoli, when they were gunned down in an "execution style" killing.
In her last message to friends before she died, the trainee nurse said she had arrived safely in Tripoli and was "having a blast".
It is understood the 46-year-old planned to carry on to the UK to visit family but wanted to spend time in Libya on the way and see where Mr De Salis lived and worked. It was to be the trip of a lifetime, and in the last Facebook post she wrote before she was killed, Ms Howie told friends that being in Libya was "an amazing experience".
The area is remote and local media have reported that the only access to the beach is by 4WD. It has also been reported that there have been several other murders and attempted armed robberies on beachgoers in the same area recently.
Sabratha, a World Heritage Site, was a popular tourist attraction in more stable times. But, like much of Libya, it has suffered from political violence since the revolution, including a series of attacks on Western targets.
The motive for the brutal crime is yet to be established, but four people have reportedly been arrested in connection with the murders.
The Daily Mail online said the couple were reported missing by friends and that their bodies were found by police on Thursday. Police sources also told the online site it was possible the presence of an unmarried couple in the area had outraged extremist Muslims who might have followed them to the beach and that execution-style killings are not unknown in such circumstances.
Yesterday, New Zealand-based relatives of Mr De Salis were not ready to speak about his death. His brother is Roger De Salis, a well known figure in the IT and telecommunications sector who now lives in Blenheim. His wife, Gayle De Salis, a nurse in the army, is a friend of Ms Howie.
Ms Howie is survived by two sons, understood to be living with her ex-husband Peter Gray, a former army major and engineer who spent time in Somalia running a landmine safety programme for the United Nations Mine Action Service. He also travelled to Kabul in Afghanistan to study US Army logistics abilities and techniques.
Mr Gray declined to speak about Ms Howie yesterday.
The Ministry of Trade and Foreign Affairs (Mfat) said an investigation by the Libyan Authorities into the deaths was under way, however no arrests had yet been made.
The ministry was continuing to provide consular support to Ms Howie's family, a MFAT spokesman said today.
"We welcome the efforts that are being made to bring those responsible for Ms Howie's death to justice.''
Mr De Salis' UK-based family said he enjoyed his work in Tripoli and liked the people of Libya.
"Mark had travelled extensively. He was a decent and incredibly loyal man and he was loved by many," they said in a statement.
Colleague John Hamilton said Mr De Salis was "part of the crowd of British guys in Libya who new people would gravitate to for advice".
"He was a really decent guy ... He was one of those people who was prepared to stick it out through the tough times. It will have a terrible impact for the oil sector."
Libya great if you take precautions, says Kiwi
A Kiwi living in Libya says it's a great place to be as long as precautions are taken, and the killing of a New Zealander and her friend appears to have been a case of being in the wrong place at the wrong time.
Dianne Alpers, a New Zealander living in Libya, said the benefits of being there were "immense".
"Libya's one of the few places I can work fulltime at 65, and despite having to forfeit my NZ pension, it's worth it. I've told my family if I'm killed in the desert, at least I'll die warm ... and there's no need to cart me back to NZ.
"Drenched in sunshine ... 360 days a year, Roman ruins (Leptis magna, Sabratha), exotic experiences, local hospitality, weddings, cuisine (Libyan soup, baby camel and cous cous aljarra-style); Mediterranean diet, the Medina (old city), date palms, citrus and olive groves ... and a minimal cost of living."
Ms Alpers, who did not know the two victims, said local word was it was a "wrong place, wrong time" scenario.
"Rules are, you don't go out after dark or travel alone to isolated places east or west of Tripoli," she said.
"The tragedy for Libya and regular Libyans is that the place is demonised."
For the latest on the investigation, go here.
- Additional reporting APNZ