Tunisia will deploy troops in its southern region to protect oil facilities against attacks from militants in neighbouring Libya, in an area where protesters are threatening to blockade transport routes to demand jobs.
The North African state has had four major attacks in the last two years, including two firearm assaults on foreign tourists and an attack in a border town by Islamic State fighters from Libya.
Since its 2011 revolution to overthrow autocrat Zine El-Abidine Ben Ali, Tunisia has struggled to meet demands of its poorer central and southern regions where unemployed youth frequently protest to demand more development projects.
The ministry of defence said the army “would protect strategic sites and oilfields” around Tataouine province, a desert are known for tourism that borders Libya.
It gave no details of any specific threat to companies or of what reinforcements were planned.
Several foreign oil and gas companies are involved in projects around Tataouine province, including Italy’s ENI , Vienna-based OMV and the Italo-Tunisian SITEP.
Tataouine has been the site of several weeks of demonstrations and sit-ins by young protesters demanding work and more development for their region. They have threatened to blockade routes used for transport by energy companies.
A government source said transport routes were still open in Tataouine.
Prime Minister Youssef Chahed last week travelled to Tataouine for talks with protesters, who set up camp in the desert near routes to oilfields. He offered 1,000 jobs as well as infrastructure projects, but protesters said it was not enough.
“We want jobs for this marginalised region, we want jobs in the oil companies,” Tarek Hadad, a protest organiser, told Reuters.
After the 2011 uprising, Tunisia was praised as a model of democratic transition holding free elections and passing a new constitution. But economic development has not followed.
State-run phosphate production was disrupted repeatedly after 2011 by protesters wanting work and British energy company Petrofac threatened to close down last year after prolonged disruption of gas transport due to blockades.