Tunis — Negotiations will start on Friday (March 14th) between Libya and Tunisia to restore commercial activity at the Ras Jedir border crossing.
The talks follow weeks of mounting tension in southern Tunisian cities along the border where trade is an economic lifeline. The most recent closure began March 9th, according to Libya Herald.
Clashes erupted Tuesday after a visit by Tunisian Prime Minister Mehdi Jomaa to Ras Jedir and his failure to find a solution with the Libyan side to hasten the re-opening.
Protesters held banners calling for the government to take measures for the crossing to regain its vital activity, saying the shutdown negatively impacted the social and economic status of residents.
"We live on trade mainly with this country because we did not find another solution due to the absence of any form of development or projects in our town," said 23-year-old Mohamed Haddad. "I hope that both parties are aware that the opening of the crossing is important to the development of trade relations and their revitalisation."
Jazia Jedli, a 42-year-old housewife, said, "This border line contributes to the provision of sustenance for most people here, and the movement of goods provided jobs for our children. We have been living for years through trade with Libya."
In this aspect, Medenine Governor Habib Chaouat told Radio Tataouine that Tunisian authorities had nothing to do with the closure of the crossing. He pointed out that the Libyan side asked for time until their internal security situation was settled.
He added that negotiations would begin between the two sides on Friday to find the appropriate solutions to reopen the crossing.
Radio Tataouine further reported that Libyan authorities informed the Tunisian side of their intention to open the crossing by Sunday. Libya originally announced its decision to close the checkpoint on February 25th due to security concerns.
Rafaà Dardouri, a 27-year-old trucker, said that the Libyan side was responsible for the crisis.
"The continued presence of irregular groups controlling the crossing causes confusion and this contributed to the obstruction of trade between the two countries and heightened the tension," he said.
Tunisia's minister delegate for national security, Ridha Sfar, stressed during his March 9th visit to the Ras Jedir crossing that traffic on the Tunisian side was normal in both directions but the problem was on the Libyan side due to the situation it is going through.
He also pointed to the existence of a strategic plan to secure the border with Libya. He stressed that this integrated approach included development and security and was not limited to trade alone, but focused on promoting development among the various stakeholders.
In the same context, residents asked for the establishment of a free-trade zone in the border area to curb smuggling and support economic co-operation between the border towns of Tunisia and Libya.
"The city of Ben Guerdane feeds on parallel trade and I admit it's harmful to our national economy, but people are forced here because they did not have an alternative," explained Abdeslam Bouarara, a retired educator. "They want a free market for goods between the two countries. I think it's the only solution to eliminate this phenomenon."
Jomaa said during his visit to Ben Guerdane last Sunday that he would eliminate the parallel trade in order to revitalise the national economy.
The premier added that his government took "a series of new measures to protect Tunisian traditional industries from counterfeited products coming from abroad, which are being smuggled then promoted in the Tunisian parallel market".