Tunis, Asharq Al-Awsat—Tunisian forces have been placed on a state of high alert on the Libya-Tunisia border following reports of clashes between rival Libyan factions close to the frontier on Friday.
In comments to Asharq Al-Awsat, Tunisian Foreign Minister Mongi Hamdi said: “Tunisian military and security forces have been placed on high alert along our borders with Libya. The Tunisian government is closely monitoring what is happening in Libya and does not want to become a party to the internal conflict [in Libya].”
Hamdi made his comments on Friday after returning to Tunis from Khartoum where he headed up Tunisia’s delegation to the Libyan Neighbors’ Ministerial Conference that discussed the latest developments in the country.
Airstrikes were reported in western Libya on Friday close to the border with Tunisia. Although initial reports were unclear, it emerged that forces loyal to the government of Prime Minister Abdullah Al-Thani had launched airstrikes targeting the forces of the rival Islamist government based out of Tripoli. Local and international reports confirmed that airstrikes had struck close to the Tunisian border crossing of Ras Ejdir, as well as south of the capital Tripoli.
Libyan military spokesman Mohamed El-Hejazi informed Reuters that forces loyal to the Thani government had bombed military targets near the Tunisian border, including targets close to the Ras Ejdir border crossing.
Hejazi, a spokesman for the Libyan National Army forces headed by Gen. Khalifa Haftar—which recently accepted the authority of the Thani government—confirmed that Haftar’s forces are carrying out a major military offensive in the border area. “The Libyan National Army will control the border with Tunisia today [Friday],” he said.
The latest clashes between rival Libyan forces comes after the Thani government on Wednesday announced a major military offensive by the Libyan National Army to “liberate” Tripoli.
“The Tunisian government is specifically monitoring the developments from inside its own territory and supporting the efforts of the armed forces and security apparatus,” Tunisia’s Foreign Minister told Asharq Al-Awsat.
Hamdi stressed Tunis’s support for “political dialogue” between the rival governments, adding that the political division in Libya cannot be solved through force of arms, but negotiations. The Libyan Neighbors’ Ministerial Conference also called on both sides of the Libyan conflict to renounce violence and reach a “consensual solution” to restore Libyan security and stability, backing the mediation efforts of UN envoy Bernardino Leon.
Tunisian ambassador to Libya Rida Boukadi, who fled Tripoli after it was taken over by Islamist forces last year and is currently based out of Tunis, told Asharq Al-Awsat: “It is in Tunisia’s interest to remain neutral over the latest escalation in Libya,” adding that Tunisia’s military and security forces are coordinating to ensure that the situation does not spill over into Tunisian territory.
Libyan ambassador to Tunisia, Mohamed Al-Maaloul, also spoke to Asharq Al-Awsat about the developing situation on Friday. “We are monitoring all areas of military and security coordination with Tunisia with the aim of securing the joint borders and border crossings,” he said.