Yesterday, security authorities at the Ras Jedir border crossing in southeastern Tunisia received the five Tunisian smugglers, detained by the Libyan Regular Army since Saturday.
They were held in the Libyan region of Aguel, 50 kilometers south of Ras Jedir.
At the outset, it was believed that the five Tunisians had been abducted by a Libyan armed group. A Tunisian border official denied this to Tunisia Live, and confirmed that the smugglers had been held by the Libyan Regular Army.
The five Tunisians were accused of entering Libya illegally and kept by the army for interrogation.
The news of their detention provoked anger amongst some Tunisian locals. This past Saturday, inhabitants of Ben Guerdane barred the road at the Ras Jedir border crossing to protest the captivity of the five Tunisians in Libya.
The Libyan Military Council of Zawiya and Tunisian National Guard undertook extensive negotiations, leading up to their release. A Tunisian border official in Ras Jedir stated to Tunisia Live that the five Tunisians were freed at 8 p.m. yesterday by the Libyan Regular Army, and subsequently recovered their fuel-laden vehicles.
“The Libyan Regular Army released the five Tunisians provided that it is broadcast on Tunisian TV – to show that the detainees are in a good condition and that they have been treated well by the Libyan Army,” the official insisted.
The five Tunisians had to promise that they would not cross into Libya illegally again. One of the detainees told Radio Tataouine that he and other merchants were trying to bring Libyan fuel into Tunisia.
Many locals along the Tunisia-Libya border have resorted to fuel smuggling, which is a major source of their incomes, explained a Tunisian customs official.
In an unrelated incident today, 150 Tunisian cars were forcibly stopped as they were trying to barge through the Ras Jedir border crossing this morning, said the same customs official. During the incident, some customs officials were assaulted, according to the Tunisian news agency TAP. Some cars that made it pass the border crossing were subsequently chased down by the Tunisian military before they could reach Libyan territory.
The cars were loaded with Tunisian subsidized food products and phosphate that their drivers wanted to bring into Libya. “We had to negotiate with them so that they would pay the taxes and cross into Libya,” he added. “It is hard to control the smugglers at the border crossing. The Tunisian authorities are overwhelmed and often unable to deal with the situation,” the customs official stated to Tunisia Live.