Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 17 June 2019

Benghazi militias seize Libya’s biggest oil port

Blow to strongman Haftar as Sidra oil port is wrested from him.

Foreign Correspondent

Libya’s biggest oil port was seized by an armed group, dealing a blow to the beleaguered country as it seeks to revive production of its most important commodity.

The Benghazi Defence Brigades (BDB), a coalition of militias that is not allied to the United Nations-backed government in Tripoli, took control of the Sidra terminal on Friday afternoon. The facility had previously been under the control of eastern-based military commander Field Marshal Khalifa Haftar.

“That is a considerable blow to Haftar,” said Mattia Toalda, senior policy fellow at the European Council on Foreign Relations. “We have to see if there is an immediate effect on exports. But for confidence in Libya’s production it’s a blow.”

Bombers from the Libyan National Army (LNA) in east Libya hit tanks and armed vehicles of the militia offensive near the coastal town of Nawfiliya, 50 kilometres from the country’s largest port of Sidra, said an LNA spokesman. The clashes show just how vulnerable Libya’s recent oil-production surge is to conflict that escalated in late 2014 but that had shown signs of calming in the past few months

The BDB consist of fighters driven out of Benghazi over the past year by the LNA. They are based around a series of former army bases in the central Jufra region and have attacked the oil ports twice before, in December and February.

Although they are equipped with tanks and anti-aircraft guns, they lack air support, which is one reason why their earlier attacks failed.

The state-run National Oil Corporation held emergency meetings to discuss port security, but said its ports were operating normally.

LNA spokesman Ahmed Al Mismari said the attacking force included Al Qaeda components and units from neighbouring Chad.

Fighting continued yesterday near Sidra and also close to the nearby Ras Lanuf refinery.

The Sidra, Ras Lanuf, Al Brega and Zueltina oil ports are among Libya’s most valuable real estate, because they serve pipelines to fields in the giant Oil Crescent that accounts for about 80 per cent of the country’s production. Their importance has made them the focus in the multi-sided civil war which has raged since the summer of 2014.

Oil output has tripled since last September to about 630,000 barrels a day, after the LNA, commanded by Field Marshal Khalifa Haftar, captured the ports from militias aligned with the Government of National Accord in Tripoli — a body the field marshal opposes.

Field Marshal Haftar’s capture of the ports led to the NOC taking control. It reopened them, raising money for an economy the World Bank warned last October was “near collapse”.

The latest fighting threatens efforts to find a negotiated end to Libya’s civil war.

Yesterday’s attack came during a second day of talks over mediation in Libya’s civil war between Fayez Al Sarraj, leader of the Government of National Accord, which is supported by the United Nations, and Russian officials in Moscow.

Those talks came after efforts by Egypt last month to open lines between Mr Al Sarraj and Field Marshal Haftar in hopes of agreeing a unity government.

In Tripoli, Libya Dawn militias started fighting each other, some supporting Mr Al Sarraj, others a rival would-be administration, the Salvation Government.

Both Tripoli governments are opposed by the elected House of Representatives in eastern Libya, which controls the LNA.


Updated: March 4, 2017 04:00 AM