Tunisia deploys special combat units to protect oil and gas fields

Tue Jan 29, 2013 6:51am EST
 
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TUNIS (Reuters) - Tunisia has sent special combat units to its borders with Algeria and Libya to protect its oil and gas installations against potential attacks from Islamist militants, the state news agency said on Tuesday.

The move follows the al Qaeda-linked attack and hostage-taking at an Algerian gas plant earlier this month, and comes as French and local troops fight against Islamist rebels in Mali.

"Tunisian authorities have set up special units in different important sites to protect oil and gas fields in the Saharan perimeter of the country", the state news agency said, citing security sources.

"This measure aims to prevent any terrorist act against these fields, especially those located on the Tunisian-Algerian border," the sources added.

They said the fighting in Mali, south of Algeria in the Sahara, was also of concern.

Tunisian Interior Minister Ali Laryed said in December that police had arrested 16 Islamist militants who had been accumulating arms with the aim of creating an Islamic state.

Earlier this month, authorities said they had seized a big arms cache in the south of the country and made several arrests.

Tunisia, which is located between major oil producers Algeria and Libya, imports most of its oil needs from abroad, but it has some oil fields concentrated mainly in the south of the country.

(Reporting By Tarek Amara. Editing by Jeremy Gaunt.)