Tunisia’s leading trade union organisation has warned that should the Gen Guerdane protesters’ concerns go unaddressed, the country faces a repeat of the insurgency that cost the lives of more than 50 people in March of this year.
“At the moment things are calm”, a spokesperson from the Regional Executive Bureau of Medenine of UGTT, Jamel Halfet told Tunisia Live. However, a statement issued yesterday by the Secretary General of the General Labor Union, Houcine Abbass cautioned Ben Guerdane residents to demonstrate peacefully, highlighting the vulnerability of the town to further attack by ISIS, (Daesh). Commenting upon the statement of the Secretary General and the threat to the town, Halfet said “There is a direct threat from Daesh.”
Protests in Ben Guerdane broke out on Monday after a young man believed to have been involved in smuggling operations was killed during an exchange of fire with the army. Initial protests escalated rapidly, with demonstrators setting fire to the plant of a nearby construction company, blocking routes into the town and erecting a large tent within Ben Guerdane’s center from which to continue their protest.
Commenting on the latest wave of unrest to seize the border town, Halfet pointed to the successive failures of central governments in delivering upon past promises, as well as the town’s proximity to the border of war torn Libya as contributing factors in Ben Guerdane’s troubles. “If demonstrations continue without a solution, ” Halfet added, “opportunists within Daesh and similar groups can exploit these demonstrations and can easily mix with the people in the street.”
Since the beginning of the year there have been numerous deaths during clashes between the military and those suspected of being involved in smuggling operations, fueling longstanding hostility to central government. Speaking on local frustrations over Tunis’ attempts to assert its authority within the region, Halfet “The army has failed to secure the territory”. The pressure upon residents to secure some form of income has increased the volume of smuggling across the border, a factor said to be exploited by militant organisations on both sides, “There is no difference between the smugglers and the terrorists,” Halfet said.
Concluding his comments, Halfet said, “There needs to be a real response to the problems [both] economic and social by the government right now”. He said that the UGTT is currently attempting to coordinate an October meeting between local and central government in an attempt to secure a long lasting solution to the beleaguered town’s fortunes.