8 January 2013

Tunisia: Security Concerns Strain Libya, Tunisia Trade Ties

Photo: Kate Thomas/IRIN
Migrants arrive at a camp at the Libya - Tunisia border.

Tunis — Tunisian Prime Minister Hamadi Jebali paid a visit to Libya on Monday (January 7th) to discuss trade ties after security concerns prompted a temporary border closure.

"The Ras Jedir border crossing will be re-opened to the traffic of goods soon after the adoption of necessary measures," TAP quoted Prime Minister Hamadi Jebali as saying in Tripoli on Monday.

The Libyan-Tunisian border, located 600km southeast of Tunis, has seen a number of recent security problems, prompting Tunisian and Libyan authorities to close it several times to ensure the safety of travellers in both directions.

According to Hamadi Miyara, mayor of the Tunisian city of Medenine, the border crossing was closed and trade halted because the Libyan side demanded more assurances about the protection of Libyan trucks, especially along the Ras Jedir-Ben Guerdane road.

Libyan truck drivers staged a protest on the Tunisian-Libyan border on December 27th to condemn harassment they are exposed to when they cross Tunisian soil. They demanded the Tunisian authorities intervene to provide them with protection.

The Medenine mayor said that attacks on some Libyan trucks in Tunisia took place as a reaction to some violations committed against Tunisians in Libya, confirming that all necessary measures would be taken to ensure the safety of Libyan traders in Tunisia.

Earlier this year, a Libyan opened fire on two Tunisians on the border, seriously wounding them and prompting their immediate transfer to hospital.

Miyara voiced his hope that the two sides would get past this situation as soon as possible because of the tension it is now causing in Ben Guerdane. He also expressed his hope that relations between Tunisia and Libya would be boosted, especially in trade which would be beneficial for both countries.

Residents of Ben Guerdane rallied on January 6th to push for a re-opening of the Ras Jedir border crossing. The Tunisian city is known as a hub for goods passing between the two countries.

Meanwhile, the situation is causing joint fears for the two countries' officials about the future of trade relations. The two countries have already expressed their worry over the security situation on the border and the movement of ground trade along the joint border area.

The Tunisian Union of Industry and Trade and the Tunisian-Libyan Chamber of Commerce warned in a joint statement on December 25th of the deterioration of trade between Tunisia and Libya because of lack of security for trucks in both directions.

The two organisations voiced their concern over the current economic situation which caused major damages for Tunisian legal exporters and generated losses for dealers with such companies, leading to a drop of trade exchanges between the two countries.

"The value of losses resulting from stoppage of dealings between the two countries in 10 days was 150 million [dinars] because Tunisian trucks were prevented from moving to Libyan border by some smugglers and outlaws," said Ali Dhaouadi, secretary-general of the Tunisian-Libyan Chamber of Commerce.

He warned that trade relations between the two countries might collapse if instability continues, stressing the need for officials from both countries to exert concerted efforts to find urgent solutions guaranteeing the return the flow of commodities along border crossings back to normal.

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