North Africa Fires Spread to Libya and Tunisia


CAIRO - As unusually hot weather persists over parts of Northern Africa, new forest fires reportedly have broken out in Tunisia and Libya during the past 24 hours, in addition to many that are still burning in Algeria.

The presidents of Algeria and Tunisia are accusing arsonists of setting many of the fires, while Algerian media said 22 alleged arsonists have been caught.

Amateur video showed a forest fire raging out of control near the Libyan city of Bayada in the Jebel Akhdar region, east of the country, overnight. Libya's 218 TV network reported that fire crews in the region were trying to put out the blaze.

A number of fires also broke out in Tunisia Thursday near the border with Algeria.

Algerian TV reported that 40 of the nearly 100 fires that were burning in 17 provinces of the country had been extinguished by Friday morning. Some Algerian media reports put the death toll from the fires at more than 70 people killed.

Algerian President Abdel Medjid Tebboune said in a televised address that many of the fires were deliberately set. He said conscientious citizens had caught and arrested nearly two dozen alleged arsonists.

The majority of these fires, Tebboune said, have what he called a "criminal hand" behind them, and ordinary citizens have caught 22 men suspected of setting the fires, including 11 in Tizi Ouzo, 2 in Gigell, 1 in Ain Defla, 3 in Medea and 4 in Annaba. Hopefully, he insists, proof of their guilt will surface.

Tunisian President Kais Saied, whose country is battling a series of forest fires near its border with Algeria, told Tunisian state TV the country's security forces are helping to battle the fires, and he insists many of them were set on purpose:

Kais said that some wicked people have cut drinking water in some areas and told residents to go to the president to get their water. They cut water on the people, and this is a crime, he said. Some of the fires are caused by high temperatures during the summer, but there also are fires that have been deliberately set, and these people will get burned themselves.

Analyst Amin Said tells VOA that time and investigations will tell if the accusations of arson turn out to be true.

"Now we get official statements from the Algerian president and the head of the forest authority in Tunisia and others talking about arson, and some defendants in Algeria were arrested and that raises a lot of questions: who is behind it, how did he do it and who is really supporting them?" Amin said. "So, we have to wait and see what the Algerian investigation would reveal and those arrested, what are their motives and who pushed them to do [what they did]."

Libya analyst Aya Burweila, visiting lecturer at the Hellenic National Defense College, tells VOA that "the recent wave of fires in North Africa, from Algeria to Tunisia to Libya, appears to have been caused by a combination of high temperatures, asymmetric threats carried out by arsonists, as well as deforestation and poor law enforcement in areas where burning and cutting down trees is prohibited."

Source: Voice of America

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