By Aya Batrawy and Rami Al-Shaheibi / AP
BENGHAZI: Libyan tribesmen have closed the country’s main border crossing with Egypt, complaining of a rise in crime and rampant smuggling of drugs and weapons across the frontier, residents and officials said.
Although most of the Libyan smugglers are members of the same Wilad Ali tribe that has profited handsomely from the smuggling, tribal elders and residents affected by the lawlessness decided the only solution was to take matters into their own hands, said Bassit Al-Harram, who lives in the Libyan town of Misaid near the border. The tribesmen seized control of the Libyan side of the Salloum crossing from the smugglers and former rebels late Friday, he said.
“We decided as residents of the border to close it until the Interior Ministry assists,” Al-Harram said.
The closure of the Salloum crossing reflects of Libya’s new leaders’ struggles to fully secure the country and stamp their authority on the former rebels who helped topple Moammar Qaddafi’s regime last year.
Libyan Interior Ministry spokesman Abdel-Salam Al-Tounis said Saturday the government is sending officials to the border to resolve the standoff. The transitional government has trained a number of security officers in border protection, and some have already been sent to work on Libya’s main crossing on its western border with Tunisia.
Egyptian officials said Libyan authorities have yet to inform them why the border has closed and when it will reopen. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they weren’t authorized to brief the media.
Last week, the foreign ministers of Tunisia, Egypt and Libya pledged to increase border controls and boost cooperation.
Egyptian security experts say the number of weapons and drugs smuggled into Egypt from Libya has increased since the 2011 Libyan civil war. Israel has said some of the weapons have reached the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip.
Security lapses in Egypt after the fall of Hosni Mubarak’s regime in February have further added to the deterioration of protective forces along the Libyan-Egypt border.
Egyptian security experts say residents of southern Egypt, where extended families often accumulate large arsenals to protect property and settle feuds, are the main buyers. On Saturday, police officials said that a cache of 52 rifles and 16,000 bullets was found in the southern Egyptian city of Assiut. The officials said the weapons came from Libya and Egypt’s southern neighbor, Sudan. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak to the media.
According to residents of eastern Libya’s cities of Tobruk and Misaid, the border has been manned for the past year by former rebels, officials involved in smuggling and locals. –Batrawy reported from Cairo.