Tripoli, 9 September:
A major fuel smuggling operation at the the main Tunisian border crossing at Ras Jedir has been smashed by border guards.
They have announced that . . .[restrict]yesterday, Saturday, they seized 45,000 litres of fuel being smuggled to Tunisia, as well as a number of vehicles said to be involved.
“We noticed in the past two days that large transport vehicles were passing daily to Tunisia and back without any loads”, said the commander at the crossing point, Mustafa Musa.
“So we carried out an inspection of these vehicles and discovered that petrol and oil were being smuggled in additional tanks.”
He said that each of the vehicles could smuggle as much as 3,000 litres of fuel at a time.
This was a crime punishable by law as well as being highly dangerous said Musa, pointing out that there had already been one accident in which a truck smuggling petrol had caught fire and the driver badly burned.
He claimed that those involved in the smuggling were Tunisians. A number had previously been caught smuggling petrol and had signed pledges not to repeat it. However, they had continued to do so, he said.
Most of the petrol, subsidised by Libya, had been bought in Jmail, Sabratha, Sorman and Zawia, he added.
Musa also claimed that smugglers were regularly involved in transporting illegal Moroccan immigrants.
Late on Wednesday, the border was temporarily closed for fear of clashes after seven Tunisians were detained in Libya as they headed back to Tunisia. A Libyan border guard, Imed Idris, was quoted by the internet site Tunisia Live as saying that the seven were being held simply because their vehicles had not been properly checked. Tunisians, however, claimed they had been arrested for smuggling. “They were arrested in Zuara, about 60 km away from the Tunisian border” the site quoted a teacher in Ben Guerdane as saying. “It is a place where fuel and gasoline smuggling is prevalent.”
On previous occasions when Tunisians have been arrested, smugglers’ relatives have taken revenge by attacking Libyan vehicles. This in turn has sometimes resulted in counter attacks on Tunisian vehicles on the Libyan side of the border.
It was fears of this that prompted the temporary closure.
So far, no attacks have been reported as a result of Saturday’s action. [/restrict]