By Sami Zaptia.
London, 11 September 2020:
- Unemployed southern Tunisians blockade road to Libyan border crossing
- blockade ongoing for third consecutive day
- Protesters blockade goods-laden trucks
- They demand border crossing be reopened to passenger traffic and trade
- Currently only goods-laden trucks allowed into ‘no man’s land’ to exchange goods
- No truck drivers from either side allowed to cross over due to the Coronavirus
- Libyan-Tunisian Business Council and Tunisian Agricultural Union have also called for border reopening – with Anti-Corona measures
For the third consecutive day, unemployed southern Tunisians from the border area continued today to block the main road linking the southern Tunisian city of Ben Guerdane and the Libyan border crossing with Libya.
The unemployed protesters erected a tent in the middle of the road preventing goods-laden trucks from passing in either direction.
The Tunisian protesters are demanding that the border crossing, which has been closed for more than seven months, be reopened to passenger traffic to allow citizens to cross in both directions, not just for goods trucks.
It will be recalled that the border crossing has been open solely for goods-laden trucks, but as a result of the Coronavirus outbreak, they are obliged to unload their goods in the ‘‘no man’s land’’ between the borders, without truck drivers from either country crossing over into the other.
However, southern Tunisia, the poorest part of Tunisia, has for decades relied on cross-border trade with Libya – and more specifically the smuggling of Libya’s heavily subsidised goods. These have included fuel, cooking oils, tea, tomato paste etc. These goods were usually transported by Tunisian passengers by car or on foot.
It will be recalled that on 19 August the Libyan-Tunisian Business Council called for the full reopening of the border.
On 21 August Ibrahim Trabelsi, a member of the Executive Office of the Tunisian Union for Agriculture and Fisheries in charge of Fruit Trees and Maghreb trade said the Libyan market may reopen for Tunisian agricultural products in a week. However, the rise in Coronavirus cases on both sides prevented this.
Equally, on 13 August, Libya’s Tripoli-based Interior Ministry had announced that it was ready to reopen the country’s borders with Tunisia, subject to adequate preventative health measures being put in place. This was backed up by the country’s prime Coronavirus-fighting agency, the National Centre for Disease Control (NCDC).
In April, 180 goods-laden trucks destined for Libya at the main border crossing were help up for about a month until an exceptional new procedure that took into account the Coronavirus pandemic – was put in place.
On June 21, land-based trade resumed routinely taking into account the new anti-Coronavirus measures. This involved trucks transporting goods from both countries delivering their goods to a neutral ‘‘point zero’’ (no man’s land) – without truck drivers meeting or crossing into the other country. Some business leaders find the process cumbersome and are calling for a faster processing protocol.