By Hadi Fornaji.
Tripoli, 22 February 2013:
The blockade of the Egyptian border crossing by residents from Sollum has intensified with as many as three thousand trucks reported to be stuck on the Egyptian side and unable to cross into Libya. According to the Cairo daily Al-Ahram, the Egyptian Ministry of Defence had now ordered the army to turn back goods vehicles wanting to cross into Libya in a effort to reduce congestion at the border.
Locals have been blockading the border since it was “reopened” on 19 February after a five-day closure by the Libyan authorities because of concerns about security during the second anniversary celebrations of the 17 February Revolution.
The protests followed reports that Libya had tightened visa requirements for Egyptians. However, Libya says there are no new visa procedures for Egyptians, all of whom have to have visas to enter the country. Nonetheless, it is reported that Egyptians living on the border were able to cross without them and that this has now been stopped.
Reports today speak of angry protestors burning tyres on the Egyptian side of the border and continuing to block traffic in both directions.
Negotiations have been taking place with the protestors in an attempt to restore the movement of traffic.
According to Egyptian officials, however, the basic problem is one of congestion because too many trucks arrived at the border crossing over the five-day closure period and that the Libyan border police are being too slow in processing them. The Egyptian daily Al Youm Al-Sabee reports that officials from the Egyptian Ministry of Foreign Affairs have been pressing their Libyan counterparts to ease entry controls. It also reports that a team of elders from Mersa Matruh is due to negotiate with the protestors as well as with counteparts in Tobruk to bring the crisis to an end.