TUNIS (Reuters) - Tunisia has intercepted five truckloads of fuel set to be smuggled into neighbouring Libya, an official said on Wednesday, in a move to curb an illegal trade which is helping to keep Muammar Gaddafi in power.
International sanctions and the effects of Libya's civil war have disrupted normal supplies of motor fuel to parts of the country under Gaddafi's control, but huge volumes of gasoline are instead being smuggled across the Libyan-Tunisian border.
A spokesman for Tunisia's Interior Ministry said the trucks were seized at the weekend in the town of Msaken, in the Sousse region about 160 km (100 miles) south of the Tunisian capital.
"The police seized five trucks of gasoline (destined) for the pro-Gaddafi side," said the spokesman. "They were heading for Libya but the police stopped the trucks."
Amateur footage posted on video-sharing site YouTube by Libyan opposition activists purported to show the trucks which were seized.
In the video, the door of a shipping container on the back of one of the trucks was swung open. Inside, concealed behind some cardboard packaging, was a large plastic tank which one of the men present said contained fuel.
The seizure was confirmed by a source in western Libya, near the border with Tunisia, who is working with anti-Gaddafi rebels.
"Container trucks with gasoline were trying to go from Tunisia to Libya and were blocked from entry. They were heading for the (Libyan) government," said the source, who did not want to be identified.
Western governments trying to bring an end to Gaddafi's 41-year rule believe that fuel supplies are crucial to his ability to hold onto power.
A NATO naval blockade and sanctions that prevent fuel traders from doing business with a list of Libyan companies and individuals have made it extremely difficult for Gaddafi's administration to bring in fuel by legal means.
However, smuggling networks help make up the shortfall. Libyans buy black-market gasoline in Tunisia, much of which has been smuggled out of neighbouring energy producer Algeria, and then carry it across the border into Libya.
Until now there has been little evidence of Tunisian authorities taking firm action against the illegal trade with Libya. Smugglers provide a livelihood for some communities in Tunisia and so they constitute a powerful interest group.