Libyan interior ministry forces have taken control of the key Ras Jdir border crossing with Tunisia from former rebels who toppled Moamer Kadhafi, a top official said on Monday.
“Today, I can announce that the control of Ras Jdir has been taken over by forces of the ministry of interior,” interim interior minister Fawzi Abdelali told reporters.
He said taking control of the crossing was a “priority” for Libya to show “the law of the state.”
The crossing, 180 kilometres (115 miles) west of Tripoli, was closed last week after Tunisian guards stopped work, complaining of lack of protection against armed and unarmed fighters deployed on the Libyan side.
On Friday, Tunisia also closed a second border post in Dehiba after allegations of attacks on Tunisians inside Libya, and Tunis Air flights to Libya have also been cancelled since last week.
Tension at the border between Tunisia and Libya erupted after a Libyan rebel reportedly shot and wounded a Tunisian customs official as he forced his way across the Ras Jdir crossing.
At present only Libyans returning from Tunisia are crossing into the country through the Ras Jdir crossing.
Voicing “deep concern,” Tunis called on Tripoli to manage its side of the border with professional forces.
The handover at Ras Jdir was “through negotiation. No use of force was carried out against anyone,” Abdelali said, adding that the former rebels had acted responsibly and kept order at the frontier.
The minister said the crossing would be reopened later this week but he did not give details on the status of the Dehiba crossing.
On Sunday, Deputy Prime Minister Mustafa Abu Shagur said Tripoli was drafting a plan to reopen and secure the border with Tunisia.
Mohammed Jarafa, a border officer at the Ras Jdir crossing, confirmed to AFP that the post was now entirely in the hands of interior ministry forces.
“The ministry took over the crossing and the revolutionaries are about a kilometre (less than a mile) away from the crossing,” he told AFP by telephone from Ras Jdir.
“The border is not operating yet, but it will in the near future.”
On Saturday, he had told an AFP reporter at Ras Jdir that the former rebels had been ordered to keep “two kilometres (over one mile) from the border.”
“We don’t want this (presence of fighters) to be a problem between the two governments,” Jarafa said Saturday.
The former insurgents had been helping to man the borders for several months by checking passports and car registration documents, border officials said.
Fighters who spoke to AFP on Saturday said they were ready to move away from the border but wanted Tunis to open the crossing.
“We have no problem to move back, and we took up arms only to liberate our country,” said fighter Nader Mansur from Zuwarah. But Tunisia “must open the border.”
Abdelali said he talked with his Tunisian counterpart and said Libya was fully aware of the support offered by Tunisian authorities during the revolution which ousted Kadhafi.
“They have received more than 70,000 homeless Libyans,” he said, adding that many Libyans had been hosted by Tunisians who themselves were “living in poverty.”
“Also Tunisia has bore the responsibility of treating millions of Libyans injured in the revolution,” Abdelali said.
“Relations between Libya and Tunisia are based on historical bonds of blood and religion. No infiltration can affect the relation between the two countries. Tunisia is the inspiration of Arab revolutions.”