Haftar seizes oil terminals, raises stakes in Libya conflict

Sunday 18/09/2016
Member of forces loyal to General Khalifa Haftar

TUNIS - The tone of the opposition of Western powers back­ing Libya’s unity govern­ment to the seizure of the country’s key oil ter­minals by General Khalifa Haftar’s forces has become more strident than that of most staunch rivals of the anti-Islamist strongman in east­ern Libya.

Oil ports at Ras Lanuf, Sidra and Zueitina were captured by forces under the command of Haftar, who opposes the UN-supported Govern­ment of National Accord (GNA) and supports the rival government in the east.

While most of Haftar’s rivals called for dialogue and restraint to prevent a flare-up of violence after almost six years of chaos and strife in Libya since the overthrow of Muammar Qaddafi, Western allies urged Haftar to withdraw his forces from the oil facilities.

Libyan analysts predicted the sei­zure of the oil outlets would be fol­lowed by intense fighting between Haftar’s camp, backed by anti-Is­lamist forces outside Tripoli and in the south, and the Islamist-camp backed by powerful militias in the capital and western regions.

Haftar is allied with Libya’s par­liament, which is based in the coun­try’s far east and has not approved the GNA in part because of differ­ences over who commands the army.

The internationally recognised parliament Speaker Ageela Saleh said Haftar’s move was by “popu­lar demand” and was endorsed by Libya’s legitimate institutions. He said Haftar “liberated the fields and the terminals from the occupiers and those hindering exports”, refer­ring to militia commander Ibrahim Jadhran, who commands the Petro­leum Facilities Guard.

Jadhran’s militia seized the oil terminals in 2013 and has tried to export illegally in the past. It is now allied with the UN-backed govern­ment.

Libya’s conflict has paralysed its once booming oil sector, denying the country an estimated $100 bil­lion in revenues over the past three years because of Jadhran’s block­ade.

The United States, France, Ger­many, Italy, Spain and Britain said the GNA is the “sole steward of these resources”, adding that “Lib­ya’s oil belongs to the Libyan peo­ple”.

Haftar’s forces handed over the oil facilities to the control of the Na­tional Oil Company, which is under the official umbrella of the GNA.

Libyan political activist Kamel al Houni said: “Haftar’s move could be the first step towards other rounds of war”. He said he sees two scenar­ios: either Misratan militias backed by the West launching a counterof­fensive with GNA backing or Haftar pressing ahead towards Tripoli. “It is not clear which scenario could materialise first,” he said.