GABORONE, Botswana — The Tunisian government says it has completed the building of a 200-kilometer (125 mile) long barrier wall and a trench along its border with Libya to prevent Islamist militants from entering the country.
Addressing a press briefing after touring the wall late last week, Tunisian Defense Minister Farhat Horchani said German and US contractors will soon install electronic surveillance equipment on strategic points along the barrier to detect any breaches.
The barrier, which stretches from the Mediterranean coastal town of Ras Jedir to Dhiba in the southwest, features a wall and trenches filled with water.
Horchani said the barrier will help stop the free movement of arms and militants from the chaotic Libyan civil war to Tunisia and other countries in the Maghreb and north-west Africa’s Sahel region.
"Today we finished closing it off, and this will help us protect our border, and stop the threat. Tunisia is capable of fighting against terrorism in an active and efficient way," Horchani said.
Further, he said the wall has already proven its efficiency by helping the security forces arrest several militants and weapons smugglers who tried to enter the country from Libya.
The completion of the first phase of the barrier came as the Islamic State group consolidates its presence in Libya. It has established a de facto capital in the city of Sirte and continues to fight for the control of a string of other regional towns.
The group is estimated to have at least 5,000 fighters, mostly Tunisians, in Libya. Tunisia fears the possible return of at least 3,000 nationals who are believed to have joined IS in Syria, Iraq and Libya.
Last week, the intelligence services of Burkina Faso and Niger warned that Islamic State fighters are already moving into countries south of Libya as Western countries led by the US discussed the need for air strikes and the deployment of ground forces to tackle the group in Libya.
On Feb. 19, a US air strike on a jihadist training camp in the Libyan city of Sabratha killed a senior Islamic State group operative behind attacks in Tunisia, Agence France-Presse reported. Officials said the raid killed 41 people, the majority of whom were Tunisians.