A sit-in demonstration began yesterday in the border town of Ben Guerdane following a protest march. Local anger has erupted over the shooting of a young man suspected of smuggling on 3rd September by a military patrol unit.
Initial unrest at the border town escalated rapidly, with continued violent demonstrations seeing some roads closed and the premises of a nearby construction company set fire to. Main roads around Ben Guerdane were reported to have been blocked by protesters yesterday, but have since been re-opened. Elsewhere, a large group of demonstrators has erected a tent in the center of Ben Guerdane where they remain encamped.
The young man was shot at 5.30am on Saturday when a military patrol intercepted seven cars thought to be carrying illicit goods from Libya. Fire was reportedly returned and a young man named as Hassan Mansouri was shot and later died in hospital.
According Mosaique FM, a meeting was held by the Governor of Ben Guerdane, the Mayor, Deputy Taher Fadhil and the Secretary General of the Union of Labor, who subsequently, ”pledged to open a serious investigation about the circumstances of the death of the young man Hassan Mansouri.” They also promised to convey the protesters’ demands to the Prime Minister and set a date to receive answers.
However, parallel to the illegal trade with Libya, is the overwhelming amount of legal goods carried across the currently blocked border legally and upon which many businesses depend, factors adding still further urgency for the need of officials’ to resolve this matter quickly.
Ben Guerdane is a well known center for smuggling with clandestine trade providing locals with a much needed income. Contacted by Tunisia Live, a source from the World Bank said that the organisation will shortly be publishing a report on the impact of the Libyan crisis on Tunisia and especially the border towns.
It is difficult to asses the value of clandestine trade in towns such as Ben Guerdane. However, a 2013 World Bank report, “Estimating Informal Trade across Tunisia’s Land Borders”, assessed the annual trade across the Ras Jedir border crossing at around 419.23 million TD ($190.16 USD) annually. In the same report, they stated, “The loss to public revenues is significant. We estimate it to be at least around 1.2 billion TDN ($0.54 USD) (of which around 500 TND for customs duties or more than one-sixth of total customs duties).”
Zaineb is a journalist in the Tunisia Live newsroom. She speaks Arabic, French and English.