Gaddafi forces hit crude pumping station: oil officials

Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi's forces have attacked a rebel-controlled oil pumping station in eastern Libya, officials of an insurgent-run oil company said on Thursday.

One official quoted a witness as saying that eight people were killed in the attack on Wednesday, which could delay efforts to restart production from the rebel-controlled Sarir and Messla oil fields, suspended after an earlier raid two weeks ago.

Abdeljalil Mayouf, information manager at the Arabian Gulf Oil Company (Agoco), whose oilfields the rebels control, said Gaddafi's forces attacked the pumping station between the Sarir oilfield and a port in Tobruk on the Mediterranean.

"In the middle (of the pipeline) there is a pumping station, which was attacked," Mayouf told Reuters.

"There was a small battle, but I don't know if anyone died."

Another Agoco employee, Saleh Fouad, who works at the Tobruk terminal, said that an eyewitness told him that an attack had taken place on Wednesday. Fouad said one survivor told him that eight people guarding the oil field died during the assault.

There was no way to confirm the report given the distance and isolation of the station, located deep in the Libyan desert south of Tobruk.

"He said he was staying in a trailer and heard shooting from all sides," Fouad said, speaking by telephone from Tobruk. "He said he saw fire and smoke at the station."

Both Agoco employees said the extent of the damage to the station was not yet known.

Mayouf said government troops also staged an attack on the Ramla oilfield, which he said belonged to an Italian company, but had no further details about the damage there.

The Qatar-based Al Jazeera television earlier reported nine security guards had died in an attack by Gaddafi's forces on an oil facility in Sarir. It gave no further details.

Rebel oil officials accuse government loyalists of attacking installations under their control to try to halt crude sales from areas out of the government's control.

Misla and Sarir were only lightly defended before they were attacked earlier this month. The rebels said they would boost security there.

Gaddafi's government has denied attacking any oil facilities and has either blamed the rebels or NATO air strikes for damage.

The rebels exported their first shipment of oil in the first week of April from Marsa el-Hariga, near Tobruk, a Mediterranean port city close to the Egyptian border.

But the insurgents have said they are unlikely to be able to export any more oil until they are able to resume production from fields under their control.

[Source: By Alexander Dziadosz, Reuters, Benghazi, 22Apr11]

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