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Tunisia beefs up security at desert oil sites
Tuesday - 1/29/2013, 8:35am EST
By BOUAZZA BEN BOUAZZA
TUNIS, Tunisia (AP) - Tunisia is reinforcing the security around its oil and gas facilities in this North African country's southern deserts following an attack in Algeria, the state news agency reported.
Special units will protect the installations in the southern Sahara region, which is 150 miles (240 kilometers) north of Algeria's Ain Amenas gas plant, attacked two weeks ago by al-Qaida affiliated militants, the agency quoted security officials as saying.
At least 37 hostages and 29 militants died in the four-day confrontation between the militants and the Algerian military.
Tunisia has had a number of clashes with armed men in the south, near the borders of Algeria and Libya. On Jan. 17, two caches of assault rifles and rocket-propelled grenades were found in the southern city of Medenine.
Sandwiched between Algeria, and its history of militants, and Libya, where the collapse of the central government has sent weapons all over the region, Tunisia has been working on beefing up its southern security.
Tunisia has been in talks with the U.S. to cooperate on improving security on its southern border.
Four days before the attack on the gas complex, Algeria, Tunisia and Libya had signed accords on Jan. 12 to increase security cooperation along their porous desert borders that have long been crossed by smugglers and militants alike.
While the leadership of the militant group which attacked the gas plant came from Algeria and its arms were most likely from Libya, much of the manpower came from Tunisia.
Eleven of the 32 militants were Tunisian, highlighting a longstanding phenomenon of young Tunisians joining militant groups abroad to fight in places like Iraq, Libya and most recently, Syria.
(Copyright 2013 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)