Clashes between Muammar Qaddafi's forces and the Libyan rebels spilled over into Tunisia on Friday for the first time, raising the frightening prospect of Libya's civil war extending beyond its borders.
Qaddafi's forces have battled the rebels for control of the Dehiba-Wazin crossing along Libya's western border with Tunisia for weeks now, but yesterday and today that fighting crept into Tunisia--the country where the Arab world's uprisings began late last year.
Witnesses tell Reuters and the AP that Qaddafi's forces fired shells across the border today, damaging buildings and injuring at least one Tunisian woman. Qaddafi's fighters also apparently drove into the border town of Dehiba in SUVs armed with anti-aircraft guns and rocket launchers in pursuit of rebels who'd fled into Tunisia, engaging in a gun battle with Tunisian troops that resulted in the deaths and injuries of some Qaddafi troops. Al Jazeera is now reporting that Tunisian security forces have diffused the situation by disarming the Libyan soldiers and transporting them back across the border. The photo above shows a Tunisian army soldier standing near an overturned car belonging to Qaddafi's forces after the clashes on Friday.
The Tunisians, needless to say, aren't happy. On Thursday, the Tunisian Foreign Ministry issued a statement noting that "the Tunisian authorities have informed the Libyans of their extreme indignation and demand measures to put an immediate stop to these violations." Tunisia's state-run Tunis Afrique Presse called the incursion "a violation of Tunisia's territorial integrity," according to Bloomberg.
The skirmishes in Tunisia may be over for now but, as AFP notes, they illustrate "the difficulty of keeping the Libyan conflict sealed within the country's land borders," which could spell trouble for Libya's neighbors. The U.S. State Department tells us that Tunisia's diplomatic relationship with Libya has been "erratic" since Tunisia reneged on an agreement to form a union with Libya in 1974. In recent years, Tunisia and Libya became major trading partners. But, of course, the recent uprisings changed everything. As Reuters explains, "Tunisia toppled its own veteran leader, Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali, in a revolution earlier this year and many people there are sympathetic to the rebels fighting Gaddafi's forces."
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.