Eastern Libyan tribesmen stormed oil export ports and closed terminals on Saturday, cutting the country’s oil exports by more than half.
The dramatic move increased tension before a summit today in Berlin, Germany, that aims to resolve the conflict.
The talks are expected to try to formalise a ceasefire in the battle for control of Tripoli between the UN-recognised Government of National Accord, which is based in the Libyan capital, and forces led by Field Marshal Khalifa Haftar, who leads the Libyan National Army and backs a parallel government based in eastern Libya.
The ceasefire declared by Turkey and Russia, who support the GNA and Field Marshal Haftar respectively, has reduced the fighting for Tripoli since it started on January 12, but it has not been signed by both sides.
The closure of the ports highlights the challenges facing the Berlin conference where Field Marshal Haftar, Fayez Al Sarraj, Prime Minister of the GNA, as well as a number of countries with interests in Libya, are expected to attend. Germany is seeking to get a political road map agreed during the conference.
The UN special envoy for Libya, Ghassan Salame, said the summit was likely to discuss the port closures. “If the thing is not solved between today and tomorrow I expect the issue to be raised, yes,” Mr Salame told Reuters in Berlin. UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres is also expected to attend to lend support to the conference.
The tribesmen took over the eastern Zueitina oil port on Friday and announced the closure of all terminals in areas under the control of Field Marshal Haftar’s Libyan National Army.
LNA spokesman Ahmed Mismari said that the “Libyan people” had closed the oil ports.
Libya’s National Oil Company declared force majeure on exports from the eastern ports of Brega, Ras Lanuf, Hariga, Zueitina and Es Sider after the seizures, which it said would reduce Libya’s oil exports by 800,000 barrels per day. The country’s oil production was about 1.3 million bpd in the week before the closures.
The NOC chairman Mustafa Sanalla criticised the closure saying: “The oil and gas sector is the lifeblood of the Libyan economy.”
The Al Sarraj government has been using oil revenues to pay militiamen that support it
The NOC has sought to stay out of Libya’s conflict but faces pressure from the LNA, which controls most of the country’s oil ports. It channels oil and gas revenues through the central bank, which mainly works with the Tripoli government but also pays some public servants in the east.
Earlier, the eastern tribesmen, who are allies of Field Marshal Haftar, accused the Tripoli government of using oil revenue to pay foreign fighters. This was in reference to Turkey’s decision at the start of this year to send Turkish troops and fighters from Syria’s war to Libya to prop up Al Sarraj’s government.
There are increasing reports that Ankara’s proxy forces in Syria also sent fighters who are paid up to $2,000 (Dh7,346) a month and have been offered Turkish nationality.
The one-day summit in Berlin is the latest in a series of attempts to stabilise Libya, which has witnessed chaos since the toppling of Muammar Qaddafi in 2011.