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Standing near the shrine of the Sufi saint Sidi Bou Ghanem in western Tunisia, Karim points to the earth.Archaeological sites like this one in the region of Kasserine are often looted or damaged during illegal nighttime excavations by people looking for antiquities to sell, says Karim, a local historian from the nearby town of Foussana.The looting of archaeological sites is a long-standing problem in Tunisia, says Yasser Jrad, head of the seized objects department at the National Heritage Institute (INP), which is tasked with protecting and recording the country's artifacts.The issue was brought into the spotlight in 2011, when Tunisia's ousted autocrat Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali was sentenced to 35 years in prison for a range of crimes, including possession of archaeological artifacts.Today, the INP gets more than double the number of reports for Kasserine than it did before the uprising, says Mohamed Ben Nejma, head of the region for the institute, adding that the instability and chaos of conflict often provides a window for archaeological looting.The western region of Kasserine, where the shrine of Sidi Bou Ghanem is located, is one of the most marginal parts of the country, with government figures showing about one in four people unemployed, far higher than the country's 15 percent unemployment rate.Bigger sites are guarded around the clock, according to the INP, while less significant sites have security guards during the day.
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