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Desert border crossing sees refugees, rally cars

By Tim Lister, CNN
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Refugees flee southern Libyan border
  • At a lonely crossing on the Tunisia-Libyan border, all is quiet
  • Like much of Libya, the fate of this area is far from decided

Dhibet, Tunisia (CNN) -- The border crossing at Dhibet in southern Tunisia is not much to look at. A small police post, another for the Garde Nationale, a customs shed -- and beyond that 200 meters of no-man's land. In between here and the Libyan border, a dog -- presumably of dual nationality -- lies in the sunshine.

Behind the red-and-white-checkered barrier on the Libyan side, a handful of soldiers pace up and down. Another peers down from a roof. A truck with a large green Libyan flag draws up. A smiling Colonel Moammar Gadhafi looks down from a mural and a large banner bears the legend "Congratulations to the brother leader."

Several days ago, Libyan soldiers abandoned this remote frontier post as anti-government groups took over the town of Nalut, 70 kilometers from the border along a twisting mountain road. But on Monday Libyan troops loyal to Gadhafi returned to reclaim control of the frontier.

A Tunisian man at the border -- one of several attracted from the nearby town to witness this rare burst of activity -- excitedly shows a CNN crew cellphone video of a Libyan military helicopter that had landed with reinforcements. Another murmurs that if we want to enter Libya, he knows smuggling trails through the mountains -- forbidding ochre-colored cliffs that rise on either side of the border.

Unlike the crossing 150 miles to the north, the border at Dhibet has no crush of foreign workers desperate to escape the violence in Libya. There is a trickle of Egyptians, a few from Mali coming over, but the loudest noise is the chirping of sparrows in the customs shed.

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One young Egyptian who worked in a Libyan aluminum plant, talks of an odyssey from Tripoli, where he worked. Threatened by Libyan soldiers, he says he and a few friends fled south and tried to enter Algeria. When that didn't work, he ended up here. He and others say Nalut remains in the control of anti-government groups, but there is anxiety that pro-Gadhafi forces nearby will launch an assault. Like much of Libya, the fate of this area is far from decided.

In the late afternoon, there is a shift change among the handful of Tunisian soldiers deployed at the border. The new arrivals lounge against the border gate, chatting and smoking -- oblivious to the drama playing out a few miles away. A Berber shepherd swaddled in rough brown cloth minds his flock of goats just beyond the razor wire.

There is sudden movement on the Libyan side. The gate goes up and several 4x4 vehicles, caked in dust, pass through. They are, bizarrely enough, part of a rally - - "Libye 2011."

The sun slips behind the mountains, the sparrows fall quiet -- and the border at Dhibet waits for its next arrivals.

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