Closed border post leaves Libya without lifeline

RAS JDIR, Libyan-Tunisian border - Libyan rebels now in control of the main border crossing with Tunisia were unable to bring in urgently needed supplies for the capital on Saturday because Tunisia would not let traffic through.

By Tarek Amara And Mohammed Abbas (Reuters)

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Published: Sat 27 Aug 2011, 11:04 PM

Last updated: Mon 6 Apr 2015, 8:40 PM

Tunisian officials in the border area said they were worried that if they opened up the Ras Jdir border crossing, fighting in the area between rebels and fighters still loyal to Muammar Gaddafi would spill over into their territory.

“There are still clashes going on over on the Libyan side,” a Tunisian security source told Reuters at the border. “That is ... the reason the crossing is closed.”

That left Tripoli cut off from its biggest source of supplies. The city is struggling with shortages of food, drinking water, fuel and medical supplies that were serious enough to prompt the United Nations to voice its concern.

Libya’s rebels, who last week swept into Tripoli and forced Gaddafi into hiding, took control of the frontier post at Ras Jdir, on this barren stretch of Mediterranean coast, late on Friday after clashes with Gaddafi loyalists.

SNIPER FIRE

The rebels at the crossing on Saturday afternoon fired their rifles into the air in celebration at having taken over and shouted “Allahu Akbar!” or “God is greatest!”

They said the loyalist soldiers had retreated into the desert to the south, from where they were mounting opportunistic raids on the coastal road.

“From time to time, gangs of them come out from the desert and harass us with sniper fire,” said Esaim Ibrahim, 34, a rebel fighter.

“We are advancing on them bit by bit. We don’t know how many of them there are. We killed two or three of them yesterday. They are gangs. They are no longer brigades,” he said.

With the Ras Jdir crossing shut, the only way to get supplies to Tripoli is by sea, or by making a 650 km (400 miles) detour south into the desert, into the Libyan Western mountains and then back up to the coast.

There was tension too on the Tunisian side of the border, where groups of Tunisian men who support Gaddafi were harassing anyone who tried to cross over.

The men are involved in the lucrative smuggling trade between Libya and Tunisia and have seen their business grind to a halt because of the conflict. They blame the rebels for the disruption.

They shouted to the rebels at the border post: “You have betrayed your country!” One of the crowd told Reuters: “Tell us, what are we supposed to do now that we’ve lost our jobs? Our livelihood was basically trade with Libya. Now everything has stopped.”

A Libyan motorist at the border, 36-year-old Karim Zawari, said he had been able to get into Libya because he was driving a Tunisian-registered vehicle and so was not targeted by the angry traders.

“There is no traffic coming through at all. I saw with my own eyes ... young men stopping the cars and smashing them. The (Tunisian) army stepped in last night and stopped them but it started again this morning,” he said.



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