Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 16 June 2019

Neglected locals storm Libya's largest oilfield

Protesters threatened more action if southern Libya was not given more support

Sharara oilfield pumps out some 350,000 of Libya's 1.1 million barrels per day output (Reuters)
Sharara oilfield pumps out some 350,000 of Libya's 1.1 million barrels per day output (Reuters)

Demonstrators in the southwest of Libya took over the country’s largest oil field in protest at the regions marginalisation by the government. They also threatened to close another medium-sized oil site nearby if their various demands, that seek to improve the quality of life for locals, were not met.

Libya’s National Oil Corporation (NOC) said the “disgraceful” move could cost the national economy $32.5 million daily but insisted production had not stopped despite threats to workers. There were various conflicting statements and rumours if the latter statement was true.

The NOC also accused local forces tasked with protecting the oil field of allowing the takeover and "exploiting the suffering of southern Libyans for personal reward." There were no reports of any casualties.

The takeover group, known as the Fezzan Anger Movement, stormed the Sharara oilfield, which pumps out some 350,000 barrels per day (bpd), on Saturday. It was there that they then said they could march on the nearby El Fil oilfield, which currently produces roughly 75,000 bpd. Both places are situated in the fertile Murzuq basin in Libya’s Fezzan region and make up a large chunk of the country’s oil output, currently hovering nationally at around 1.1 million bpd.

“We want to provide basic life requirements such as fuel, money, hospitals and security,” the movements leader Bashir El Sheikh told The National. He said the government had not made any contact as of early Sunday morning Libyan time (GMT+2).

The Fezzan Anger Movement issued a range of demands that included increased security to protect the region and Libya’s porous borders, as well better equipment and more medicine for doctors.

Among the others were requests for better job opportunities for youngsters, in particular in the oil sectors, more cash in banks, the opening of all airports in the south and the resumption of industrial projects halted due to security concerns.

Libya’s vast and sparsely populated south is a haven for terrorists, sub-Saharan rebel groups and smugglers, and locals regularly complain of government neglect. Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb is believed to have the bulk of their members who operate in Libya present in the region.

“We strongly condemn this illegal act and warn all parties of the consequence of their actions. The corporation, in accordance with Libyan law, will legally pursue all parties involved in this act,” said NOC chairman Mustafa Sanalla in a statement.

Mr Sanalla added he fully understood the “plight” of southern communities and pointed to the NOC’s focus on delivering oil and sustainable projects for the region.

He was also fiercely critical of the 30th Infantry Battalion of the Petroleum Facilities Guards for not doing their duties.

“The closure of oil installations, the very event the PFG is supposed to prevent, damages the national economy, diminishes local economic opportunities, and ultimately harms all the Libyan people,” he added.

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The NOC publicly named the local commander of the group and those they held particularly responsible.

Earlier in the day the 30th Infantry Battalion said in a statement: “We as the force securing the field inform you that the Fezzan Anger Movement entered the field and stopped the production in line with the demands of the movement.”

Libya’s oil industry form a crucial part of propping up the conflict-ridden country’s precarious economy but frequently are attacked or taken over for a variety of reasons.

It caps a difficult 10 days for the NOC, with extensive flooding in eastern Libya preventing the export of a large amount of oil for a number of days a week ago.

Updated: December 9, 2018 06:47 AM

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