Skip to main content

Tensions in Libya spill over into Tunisia

The USA is due to sell 12 Black Hawk Helicopters to Tunisia who is facing a deteriorating security situation as people flee violence in Libya
Egyptians rest after crossing Ras Jedir' border, in Tunisia, to flee from clashes in Libya (AFP)

Things are tense on the Tunisian borders as the deteriorating security situation in Libya is gradually spilling over into  its neighboring country. 

In order to help curb the ever growing threat of violence, Tunisian President Moncef Marzouki said in a speech on Tuesday in Washington that, "We asked the United States to give us about 12 Black Hawks." "We badly need them now," he said. 

While any sales still need to be approved by Congress, the Obama administration has stated that it is planning to go ahead with the sale to Tunisia of 12 UH-60M Black Hawks for a total estimated cost of $700 million, according the Defense Security Cooperation Agency, 

On Saturday the Tunisian government also announced that it would be increasing security in a military buffer zone in the southern part of the country as well as in the coastal border line.

It said in a statement that Prime Minister Mahdi Jomaa had decided to intensify security presence in the aforementioned two areas.

The government did not, however, elaborate on the size of the new security reinforcements in the military buffer zone, which contains the country's borders with neighboring Libya and Algeria.

The buffer zone was created in September 2013 upon a decision by Tunisian President Moncef Marzouki.

This decision comes on the back of the temporary closure of the Ben Gardane border with Libya on Friday after fighting broke out as an overwhelming number of people tried to flee Libya and escape into Tunisia. 

Foreign Minister Mongi Hamdi last Wednesday discussed the crisis at the border. 

"We just can't take in hundreds of thousands of refugees to be added to more than 2 million Libyans now living in Tunisia. Our economy can't bear more than that, and if our national interests require us to close the Libya border, we will close it," he said.

Tunisia's Ras Jedir border crossing with Libya was also closed briefly earlier in the month over congestion. It was later reopened but according to the Tunisian foreign ministry, the Ras Jedir post receives between 5,000 and 6,000 refugees a day.

There are also approximately 13,000 Egyptians stuck at the Ras Jedir border who the Tunisian government have just agreed to transport to safety via Egyptian and Tunisian planes, Tunisian Interior Minister Lotfy bin Jedo said on Tuesday. 

Violence has been also been high along the border with Algeria and sixteen Tunisian troops were killed in July by around 60 militants who managed to infiltrate into Tunisia's Chambi region on the border between Tunisia and Algeria.

The mountainous Chambi region is said to be where some militants are hiding out following French intervention in Mali last year.