Libya over the weekend closed its southern borders along Chad, Niger, Sudan, and Algeria and declared emergency law in seven southern regions for a temporary but unknown period of time. With the emergency law in effect, the defense ministry can now appoint a military governor with the power to arrest criminals and deport illegal immigrants.
According to parliament member Suad Ganur who represents the large southern city of Sebha, southern Libya is experiencing an “upsurge in violence and drug trafficking, and the presence of armed groups that act with complete impunity.” She also noted that an “increase in the flow of illegal immigrants” has occurred “in the expectation of eventual international military action in Mali” against al-Qaeda linked rebels who now control much of Mali’s north.
Libyan security forces stand guard as people turn in weapons in Benghazi, Libya, on Sept. 29. (Photo: Ibrahim Alaguri, AP)
According to a military official, Tripoli’s main concern and reason for closing the border is not to prevent illegal immigration but the flow of weapons, as southern Libya after Moammar Qaddafi has been used as a smuggling route for weapons to al-Qaeda in the Sahara. Sophisticated weapons such as anti-tank and anti-aircraft rockets have also been smuggled from Libya to Egypt’s Sinai, with some ending up in the hands of Palestinian terrorists in the Gaza Strip. In addition, clashes between tribes and militants in the south have left more than 100 dead. According to parliament members from the region, the south is being terrorized. In early December, members of Libya’s parliament from its south boycotted parliament sessions to protest the government’s failure to address the security situation in their region after nearly 200 prisoners escaped from a jail in Sebha, allegedly in coordination with the facilities’ police.
Since Qaddafi’s fall, Tripoli has struggled to bring the country’s competing tribes and military factions under its control. It is unclear how emergency law in Libya’s south will work in practice, as the Libyan military lacks a strong presence in the south and along its border.