23 July 2014

Libya: Tunisia Cuts Libya Diplomatic Presence Amid Unrest

Tunis — Tunisia is taking steps to protect citizens from the security chaos across the border in Libya.

In the latest move, Tunisia recalled diplomats from Libya and urged expats to leave the embattled country.

"We have decided to cut consular services provided by our consular missions in Tripoli and Benghazi, and to provide only necessary and urgent services," the Tunisian Foreign Ministry said on July 16th.

"A consular office will be opened in the coming few days in Ras Jedir to provide services to our community and facilitate their return to the homeland," it added.

Tripoli is witnessing clashes in the vicinity of its airport, while Benghazi is seeing fierce fighting between Khalifa Haftar's Operation Dignity forces and Ansar al-Sharia. Scores of Libyan military personnel and civilians have been killed.

Libya is facing a tough situation after bloody fighting intensified among militias looking for money and power and that are also looking to impose their radical views, according to Ismail Harakat, a 41-year-old educator and resident of a Tripoli suburb.

"Our interests have been damaged and our businesses have been stopped as a result of that," he said. "We don't know when all this will end; there is nothing showing that the situation will change for the better in our country."

Mohamed Abou Bridàa, a self-employed Tripoli resident, said the situation could only be changed through dialogue between the various Libyan factions.

"The solution is to avoid partisanship; Libya is for everyone and with everyone," he added. "Those who carry arms have to lay down their arms, come back to their senses and listen to the voice of reason and logic. We're all sons of Libya."

Meanwhile, TunisAir cancelled its flights to Libya because of the security risks.

Boujemàa Khamari, a 40-year-old day labourer, said the decision was correct given the armed conflict in neighbouring Libya, noting that such conditions make it necessary for all countries to take precautions.

"We appreciate the measure, which has become necessary due to the recent events in Libya in order to avoid kidnappings after diplomatic missions became a target for attacks," he added. "In addition, the Libyan government is unable to secure itself and can't be depended on in protecting the interests of other countries on its soil."

A Tunisian diplomat and embassy staff member kidnapped in Libya last April by gunmen were recently released.

However, Omar Khouini, an activist at a civil society organisation, said the decision to curtail staffing was not enough and was only temporary. "Tunisia must play the role of mediator among the various factions in Libya to reach a solution and spare blood that is daily spilled; those who die there are our brothers," he said.

Many Tunisian workers have recently returned home from Libya because of the danger.

Kais Chtioua, 39, said he had travelled to Libya four months ago and worked at a shop selling beverages in Tripoli, but decided to return because of the deteriorating security situation there.

"I could no longer stay there although my Libyan friends were prepared to protect me," he told Magharebia. "I felt I was not safe; the situation is dangerous and made me fear for my life, and therefore, I decided to come back."

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