By Hadi Fornaji.
Tunis, 7 August 2017:
Meeting in Tunis today, Tunisian President Beji Caid Essebsi has told Presidency Council head Faiez Serraj that it was very much in Tunisia’s interests to see stability and security restored in Tunisia. He also again declared that ultimately it was up to the Libyans to make the compromises needed for peace to become a reality. The most that neighbouring countries such as Tunisia, Algeria, Egypt, or the wider international community could do was to facilitate and encourage Libyan dialogue.
Libyans, he said, had to sit down together and take part in a meaningful dialogue. Otherwise the current stalemate would remain.
Serraj’s visit is part of the follow-up process after his Paris talks with Khalifa Hafter and he briefed Essebsi on the talks and other developments in the country. There was, he told the Tunisian president, no alternative to the Libyan Political Agreement.
Serraj was in Algiers just over a week ago, telling the Algerian government the same thing. A visit to Cairo is expected, but no date has been fixed.
Today’s talks also focused on a number bilateral issues. These included proposals to restart shipping services between Tunis and Tripoli. Afterwards, it was announced that the Tunisian consulate in Tripoli would reopen shortly, that joint committees on a number of issues would be resumed, and that Libya would make the first payment on outstanding debts to Tunisian hospitals with remainig payments made regularly.
Essebsi’s comments about Tunisia needing stability in Libya reflect the interlinked economic ties between the two countries. In addition to Tunisian exports to Libya – in 2013 they were worth nearly $900 million – Libya provided jobs before the 2011 revolution for tens of thousands of Tunisians who additionally repatriated millions dinars back to Tunisia. In particular, though, Libya stability in Libya would bring stability and prosperity to Tunisia’s troubled south. Before the revolution there were plans for a free trade economic zone straddling the border and linking Ben Guerdane in Tunisia and the area around Ras Jedir in Libya. There were also plans afor oil and gas pipelines from Libya to Gabès in southern Tunisia.
All are on hold.