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Militia Seizes Libyan Oil Terminals in Challenge to Government

Fighting erupted in Libya's oil crescent on Sunday when forces loyal to the dominant militia commander in eastern Libya attacked and seized as many as three major oil terminals, military and civilian officials said.

The sudden offensive from the commander, Gen. Khalifa Hifter, adds a new layer to Libya's multifaceted civil war, and presents a fresh challenge to the authority of the already weak unity government backed by the United Nations.

General Hifter's forces attacked the oil ports of Ras Lanuf, Es Sider and Zueitina early Sunday, said Ahmed al-Mismari, a spokesman for General Hifter's Libyan National Army. Since 2013, the ports have been held by a smaller militia known as the Petroleum Facilities Guard, led by Ibrahim Jathran.

In July, Mr. Jathran signed an agreement with the unity government to resume oil exports from Libya, ending a three-year-old embargo. But on Sunday, his soldiers had been expelled from Ras Lanuf and Es Sider, though there were reports of continuing fighting at Zueitina.

Early Monday, the Libyan National Army said it controlled Zueitina. Tribal mediators reportedly pressured militants fighting for Mr. Jathran to surrender, aiding the advance.

The United Nations envoy to Libya, Martin Kobler, who has been struggling to unify the country's fractious politicians and militia leaders, expressed concern.

"Worried about reported fighting in the oil crescent," he said on Twitter. "Will add to division and further restricting oil exports. Oil belongs to ALL Libyans."

General Hifter's military gambit puts him on a collision course with the unity government even as international scrutiny of Libya intensifies. The contested oil region lies 50 miles east of Surt, the coastal city where Western-allied militias backed by American airstrikes are laying siege to the main Islamic State base in Libya.

In Surt, militias from the western city of Misurata that are leading the fight have said in recent weeks that they are close to expelling the Islamic State from the city.

Oil, Libya's main source of wealth, has always been a central factor in the complex civil conflict that erupted after the ouster of Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi in 2011.

The country's central bank reserves, drawn from oil income, have rapidly been depleted this year, causing a plunge in the Libyan currency and economic pain. But political and factional rivalries have thwarted efforts to resume oil production.

General Hifter, who is based in the eastern city of Benghazi, has long resisted joining the unity government that established itself in Tripoli in March. He has also opposed efforts by other groups to resume oil exports.

Mr. Jathran has controlled the oil crescent since 2013. His forces had rebuffed two major attacks: one from the Islamic State and one from militias based in Misurata.

Tension grew between Mr. Jathran and General Hifter after Mr. Jathran signed the deal to resume oil exports, effectively drawing himself into a new alliance. That deal had been due to take effect later this month but is in doubt after Sunday's assault.

[Source: By Suliman Ali Zway and Declan Walsh, International New York Times, Berlin, 11Sep16]

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Libya War
small logoThis document has been published on 28Sep16 by the Equipo Nizkor and Derechos Human Rights. In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, this material is distributed without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes.