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Tunisian soldier killed in 'war' with militants on Algerian border

Tunisia's Mount Chaambi near the Algerian border, a military zone since 2013, still tense despite Marzouki hints at 'reconciliation' with fighters
President Moncef Marzouki addresses Tunisian soldiers fighting near Mount Chaambi (AFP)

A Tunisian soldier was killed and five others wounded on Friday by a landmine explosion in the Mount Chaambi region near the Algerian border, the Tunisian defence ministry said.

Three of the injured soldiers are in a critical condition, reported Tunisia news website,Tunisia Live.

A mine exploded when a military vehicle passed, killing a senior non-commissioned officer and wounding five other soldiers, said ministry spokesperson Taoufik Rahmouni on Friday.

“Since we are at war, the losses are expected,” he went on.

In August 2013, areas along Tunisia’s borders with Algeria and Libya, including Mount Chaambi, were declared closed military zones, after nine Tunisian soldiers were killed in an ambush on the mountain.

Since late 2012, Tunisian security forces have been battling fighters operating in the region close to the Algerian border, who are thought to have links to al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM).

More than 20 police and troops have been killed in the area, many by improvised bombs and mines, since the beginning of the unrest.

In a statement on 29 April, President Moncef Marzouki extended the area of closed military zones around Mount Chaambi, saying that those wishing to access the areas would require prior military authorisation.

According to that statement, the decision will remain in effect until military operations in the area are concluded, though no date has been set for an end to military operations in the area.

Friday’s landmine explosion occurred as soldiers were enroute to the closed zone, and the military is investigating how and when the mine was placed there, Rahmouni said.

"It is impossible to gain 100 per cent control over an area of this terrain and this size," Rahmouni said.

Tunisian forces have made regular use of aerial and artillery offensives, but according to AFP, has been unable to eliminate the fighters they are targeting.

Earlier this month, Marzouki announced that he wanted to “open the door of reconciliation” to fighters willing to surrender their arms.

Speaking to soldiers participating in ongoing operations near Mount Chaambi, Marzouki said that there was still a place in Tunisia for “those without blood on their hands”.

According to Tunisia Live, he told the soldiers that “soon children will come to Mount Chaambi to spend their vacation, and they will remember that you opened the mountain for them.”

The announcement came a day after a meeting between Tunisian and Algerian officials, at which it was decided that Algeria would give Tunisia a total of $150m in financial aid, in a mixture of loans and gifts.

Also on the agenda at the talks was “security co-ordination between the two countries”, according to news site Magharebia.