Libya to send military to Tunisian border after armed clashes

Ras Ajdir crossing shut last week following fighting between locals and security forces

A Tunisian police officer checks a Libyan motorist at the border post in Ras Ajdir.  AFP
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Libyan parties have reached agreement to reopen the Ras Ajdir border crossing with Tunisia within days after it shut last week due to armed clashes between residents of the town of Zuwara and security forces, sources told The National.

The Supreme Council of the Amazigh of Libya, which brings together tribal leaders representing the people of Zuwara, has reportedly reached a consensus with the Tripoli-based Government of National Unity, headed by Abdul Hamid Dbeibah, which includes the temporary dispatch of military forces to the border crossing to stabilise the situation.

The agreement stipulates that only local Zuwara military personnel are deployed at the crossing, the same sources said.

According to a leaked document signed by the Chief of the General Staff, Brig Gen Mohammed Mustafa Al Sadiq Makraz, which was viewed by The National, Mr Dbeibah’s government will send seven battalions to Ras Ajdir.

The border crossing remains closed with a minimal presence of local security forces, who are loyal to the Tripoli-based government.

Travellers between Libya and Tunisia – mostly merchants – are advised to use the Dehiba-Wazin crossing, further to the south.

Last week's armed confrontations are the latest in a long-running series of conflicts in Libya that broke out after the toppling of dictator Muammar Al Qaddafi in 2011.

Fighting over the years has shut down key infrastructure from oilfields to government buildings, airports and major roads.

Having a majority of locals in charge of the towns on both sides of the border had been favoured due to the strong tribal affiliations.

Zuwara has a majority of Amazigh – the native inhabitants of North Africa – who continue to speak their own language and maintain their traditions.

However, this approach was rejected by Mr Trabelsi, who seized control of the Ras Ajdir border crossing with Tunisia in November.

Othman Ben Sassi, a former member of Libya’s disbanded post-2011 National Transitional Council, highlighted what he believes are the reasons behind the latest escalation.

“The Interior Ministry created the issue when they stormed in with forces that are foreigners to the town and who are unfamiliar with the special and long-lasting dynamics between Libyans and Tunisians in the bordering towns,” he told The National.

Mr Ben Sassi said this special dynamic had helped to maintain a stable security situation at the border due to the familiarity between security forces on both sides.

“This sudden change [the recent takeover by Interior Minister Imad Trabelsi's forces], made both Tunisian and Libyan security forces unable to identify who is who,” he added.

Mr Ben Sassi said that before this change, it was easier for security personnel on both sides of the borders to detect potential risks and maintain stability due to the long-standing agreements.

“The [Ras Ajdir] border crossing cannot be subjected to the control of certain groups, cities or specific regions, it must be sovereign and abide by the rule of law,” Mr Trabelsi said last Tuesday.

The situation in Zuwara is currently stable, a local security officer confirmed to The National.

Updated: March 26, 2024, 1:24 PM