10 April 2014

Libya, Tunisia Secure Border

Tunisia and Libya on Wednesday (April 9th) agreed to work together to keep the Ras Jedir border crossing open.

Traffic began moving across the key transit point on Monday, for the first time in a month.

Weeks of rumours and debate from all sides had kept the post closed and progress at an impasse, but then Tunisian Interior Minister Lotfi Ben Jeddou and his Libyan counterpart Saleh al-Barassi decided to partner to preserve the safe movement of citizens and goods.

"Libya's security is tied to Tunisia's," al-Barassi said. Co-operation will continue to protect the two countries, he added.

The safety of Libyan citizens in Tunisia is unquestionable, exactly as is the security of Tunisian citizens in "brotherly Libya", Tunisian President Moncef Marzouki Tuesday evening.

Marzouki also emphasised the need to increase the level of vigilance to face threats to the transitional process in the two countries.

The move was welcomed by residents of the Tunisian border town of Ben Guerdane, which relies heavily on the flow of traffic at Ras Jedir.

"We don't deny the importance of the border crossing for us and its benefit to the region," truck driver Fethi Beltaif said. "However, there's failure to implement agreements signed between the two countries and this explains the closure from time to time."

"We don't rule out the possibility that the border crossing will be closed again in the future... nothing can be guaranteed," agreed local social activist Gammoudi Douri said, noting the security challenges witnessed by Libya.

Tensions at the Ras Jedir post can only be resolved once the Libyan government "controls its soil, bans weapons, disbands militias and builds a modern state capable of protecting itself first and then its neighbours", said Riadh Sidaoui, director of the Geneva-based Arab Centre for Political and Social Studies.

"The Libyan state is unable to secure itself from inside because some entities are planning to divide it," he said. "Therefore, Tunisia's role now is to help Libya because it needs us, and also because a secure Libya helps establish a secure Tunisia."

Libyans living near the Tunisian border also voiced concern about security problems.

"If the border crossing is not controlled, there will be many breaches by gunmen," Libyan trader Youssef al-Zuwari told Magharebia.

"Smugglers, especially of fuel, which is now sold well in Tunisia due to its low price in Libya, exploit it. When the crossing is closed, disturbances take place," the Zuwara resident added.

Libyan political activist Ali al-Rahibi is optimistic, now that the sides are working together.

"Some problems surface, but with agreements and co-operation between the two countries' authorities, all problems will be solved, especially as the two states are keen on enhancing relations," he said.

He added, however, that the two countries needed to realise security and control over their shared border.

"They must prevent the entry of smuggled items, illegal immigrants and weapons, as well as the movement of gunmen and terrorists through the crossing," he said.

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