Libyan authorities, once loyal to General National Congress Prime Minister Khalifah Gwhell now pledged to the Presidency Council of Faiez Serraj, and currently in control of the Ras Jedir border crossing between Tunisia and Libya decided on Thursday, April 28 to close all traffic in both directions. Hafedh Maamar, a Libyan official at the border crossing quoted by Tunis Afrique Presse said “The decision was taken due to the ongoing blocking of roads to Libyan cars and trucks by traders in Ben Guerdane.”
Traders and residents in Ben Guerdane (Governorate of Medenine) began a general strike on Tuesday, April 26, in protest of the non-implementation of an agreement signed last week between the Tunisian and Libyan authorities which should have seen commercial traffic from Libya through the Ras Jedir border crossing resumed, the strike follows sit in protests which have blocked traffic to Libyan vehicles in the towns of Zokra and Jalal which lie between Ras Jedir and Ben Guerdane.
In response on April 11, Khalifah Ghwell the Prime Minister of the General National Congress (GNC) government said the border would remain closed until the Tunisian authorities could ensure the security of Libyan traders on Tunisian territory. On Thursday, April 21 an agreement was reached between the Tunisian authorities and the Libyan parties after which it was announced the Ras Jedir border crossing would be reopened on Monday, April 25, the agreement did not succeed in reestablishing traffic.
The Tunisian authorities closed the Ras Jedir border crossing for two weeks following the March 7, attack on Ben Guerdane. Since that closure normal traffic has not been regularly reestablished, when a partial reopening was announced Tunisian traders were prevented from entering Libya, in protest Tunisian traders erected roadblocks to prevent Libyan trucks from circulating in Tunisia.
The Ras Jedir border crossing has been closed several times during Libya’s 2014 fragmentation as fighting between Libya’s myriad militia led to the formation of two rival governments. More recently the border was closed for a fifteen day period after the November suicide bombing in Tunis which claimed the lives of twelve members of Tunisia’s Presidential Guard. Tunisian officials have stated that the explosives used in the Tunis bomb attack were of a ‘similar type’ to explosives seized earlier in 2015 which had been fabricated in Libya.
Previous extended closures of cross border traffic have resulted in unrest and even rioting as in January of 2013 when protesters in Ben Guerdane burned a police station and cars demanding the end of a border closure.
In addition to the explosives used in the November attack the Tunisian authorities believe the gunmen responsible for the Sousse and Bardo attacks in 2015 were trained in camps outside the Libyan city of Sabratha. On February 19, a U.S. airstrike targeted the camps and Noureddine Chouchane, a Tunisian Militant wanted Tunisian authorities for his role in the Bardo attack, according to local Libyan sources the U.S. airstrike killed over 50 suspected militants, the vast majority of whom were Tunisian nationals.
After the Sousse attack the Tunisian authorities began construction on a 250 km ‘security barrier’ along its border with Libya. The security barrier, completed in early February, runs the section of Tunisia’s border between the Ras Jedir and Dhehiba border crossings. While the security barrier did not prevent the March attack on Ben Guerdane there are signs, including protests by gasoline smugglers, that it has reduced smuggling, which along with legal cross border trade the economy of Ben Guerdane is almost entirely reliant upon.