Libya, Algeria and Tunisia to step up border security

GHADAMES, Libya Sat Jan 12, 2013 2:21pm EST

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GHADAMES, Libya (Reuters) - The prime ministers of Libya, Algeria and Tunisia agreed on Saturday to enhance security along their common borders in an attempt to fight the flow of arms and drugs and organized crime in the politically turbulent region.

Meeting in the western Libyan border town of Ghadames, Libyan Prime Minister Ali Zeidan and his Algerian and Tunisian counterparts said measures would include setting up joint checkpoints and patrols along the frontiers, which stretch for thousands of kilometers (miles) through mostly sparsely-populated desert.

They also expressed concern over the crisis in Mali, where an international campaign to crush rebels who seized the north of the country was gathering pace.

Mali does not share a border with Libya but it has been affected by the spillover of weapons and fighters from the war.

Security on Libya's borders has deteriorated since the 2011 war that ousted Muammar Gaddafi, with its southern regions struggling with smuggling, lingering unrest and insecurity.

"We would like to send a message that we will not allow anyone to use our countries for terrorism or use our borders for weapons trade, drugs smuggling or illegal immigration," Zeidan told reporters.

In a joint statement, the premiers said they would meet several times a year and agreed to form teams to look into cooperation with neighboring countries over the Malian crisis, which they said required "political dialogue".

Libya's General National Congress last month ordered the temporary closure of the country's borders with Chad, Niger, Sudan and Algeria and declared seven southern areas restricted military areas.

This week, Zeidan hosted his Tunisian counterpart Hamadi Jebali for talks about border security and normalizing traffic at the key border crossing of Ras Jedir.

Hundreds of Tunisian protesters demanding jobs and the reopening of the crossing set fire to a police station and cars, and police used teargas and fired shots into the air to disperse them on Friday.

Protesters in Ben Guerdane want the Ras Jedir crossing reopened so that trade with Libya, on which most of the town's population depends, can start again. Authorities opened the crossing briefly on Thursday but shut it because of the security threat.

(Editing by Tom Pfeiffer)

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