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 and appears to build upon a sit in protest begun yesterday in the town of Zokra which lies between Ras Jedir and Ben Guerdane.
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 reopened was announced Tunisian traders were prevented from entering Libya, in protest Tunisian traders erected roadblocks to prevent Libyan trucks from circulating in Tunisia.
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.
On April 20, the Ministry of the Interior announced the lifting of a nighttime curfew in Ben Guerdane which had been in effect since the March 7 attack when scores of militants simultaneously attacked security personnel, a national guard office, a customs office and a military barracks in the city of Ben Guerdane near the Libyan border in a day long attack that began at dawn and resulted in over sixty deaths, including twelve security personnel and seven civilians.
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.