Ras Jdir, Libya, December 3, 2011 (AFP)
Ras Jdir, Libya, December 3, 2011 (AFP)
Libyans returning from neighbouring Tunisia said they were attacked and robbed there, as former rebel fighters showed readiness on Saturday to stay away from the troubled Ras Jdir border post.
The crossing, 180 kilometres (115 miles) west of Tripoli, closed on Wednesday when Tunisian guards stopped work complaining of lack of protection against armed and unarmed fighters deployed on the Libyan side of the frontier.
On Friday, Tunisia closed a second border post in Dehiba after allegations of attacks on Tunisians inside the Libyan border. And Tunis Air has cancelled flights to Libya since last week.
But on Saturday, Libyans entering their country from Ras Jdir complained of facing steady attacks from Tunisians while on their way home, often forcing them to drive through unknown terrain to avoid being robbed.
“Around 10 people stopped my car near the Tunisian city of Madnin and robbed me and my friends,” Suleiman Zahra, a businessman from Tripoli crossing the border post, told an AFP correspondent at the scene.
“They threw stones at my car and shouted abuse at us. It was a nightmare as I was bringing back a friend who was treated in Tunisia after having been wounded in the fighting” that toppled Moamer Kadhafi’s regime.
The only traffic at the Ras Jdir crossing on Saturday was Libyans entering from Tunisia, many returning after months of taking refuge from the war. The border was closed to Libyans trying to cross into Tunisia.
Apart from returning Libyans, only armed former Libyan rebels in their cars and pick-up trucks were moving around the crossing which usually sees thousands of people criss-crossing between the two countries each day.
Tension between the two neighbours was triggered after a Libyan rebel reportedly shot and wounded a Tunisian customs official as he forced his way across the border.
Tunisian authorities closed the Ras Jdir and Dehiba crossings after the incident.
On Thursday, Tunis voiced its “deep concern” at the border incidents and called on Tripoli to manage its side of the Ras Jdir crossing with professional forces.
A Libyan border official said the fighters who led the uprising against Kadhafi have been ordered to steer clear of the border with Tunisia.”There was a meeting by Libyan border officials and it was decided to ask the (former) rebels to move back two kilometres (over one mile) from the (Ras
Jdir) border,” said Colonel Mohamed Jarafa.
“The decision is expected to be implemented later today or early tomorrow. We don’t want this to be a problem between the two governments,” Jarafa said.
The official did not deny the incidents cited by Tunisian authorities but played them down. “Some rebels are unaware of the consequences of their actions,” he said.
Another Libyan border official, Najmi Moamer, said the former rebels had been helping man the borders for several months by checking passports and car registration documents.
On Saturday, fighters, mostly from the town of Zuwarah, remained in the border area. Regular blasts of gunfire could be heard and civilian pick-up trucks loaded with heavy artillery roamed the area.
Fighters who spoke to AFP said they were ready to move away from the border crossing but wanted Tunis to open the crossing.
“We have no problem to move back and we took up arms only to liberate our country,” said fighter Nader Mansur, a resident of Zuwarah. But Tunisia “must open the border” and halt attacks against returning Libyans.
“They are attacking our people and we know who these attackers are. They are Tunisians paid by loyalists of Kadhafi who escaped to Tunisia during the early days of the revolution.”
Libyan businessman Osama Mohammed Hassan said he spent an entire night at a farm in Tunisia with his wife, mother and brother, before he could reach the border crossing.
“They (Tunisian men) are drunk and are attacking any Libyan vehicle they see. My car was also hit between Madnin and Ben Gerden,” another Tunisian city, he said.
“We treat Tunisians like our brothers. They are the only ones allowed to visit Libya without visas and still they treat us like this.”