Eastern Libyan forces take over El Sharara oilfield

BENGHAZI, Libya (Reuters) – Eastern Libyan forces loyal to Libyan commander Khalifa Haftar captured the El-Sharara oilfield on Wednesday, officials said, apparently taking over the facility from armed tribesmen and state guards in a challenge to the Tripoli government.

FILE PHOTO: A general view shows Libya’s El Sharara oilfield December 3, 2014. REUTERS/Ismail Zitouny/File Photo

Haftar’s Libyan National Army (LNA) group, which is based in the east, called oil firm NOC to lift force majeure, a contractual waiver, it had declared when it shut down production at the 315,000-barrels a day oilfield.

NOC declined to comment.

El Sharara was taken over on Dec. 8 by groups of tribesmen, armed protesters and state guards demanding salary payments and development funds.

The LNA said it had met no resistance.

Libya’s oil industry has faced disruption since unrest began, with rival power centers in the west and east. Protesters and armed groups have often targeted oilfields and energy infrastructure.

Haftar is a dominant figure in the east where his Libyan National Army (LNA) seized the second-largest city of Benghazi in 2017 by expelling Islamist and other fighters.

Last month, his forces started an offensive in the south to fight militants and secure its oilfields, and on Wednesday made good on the promise by moving on the El Sharara field.

“Our forces arrived safely at the field,” a spokesman for the forces, Ahmed Mismari, told a news conference.

A video posted online showed jubilant soldiers at the oilfield which is located deep in Libya’s south and had been previously formally belonged to the Tripoli-based internationally recognized government.

A resident confirmed LNA solders were inside the oil field, a vast complex stretching for kilometers.

A Tripoli official, asking not to be named, acknowledged that the LNA was holding El Sharara.

Tripoli had earlier on Wednesday appointed a military commander for the main southern city of Sabha and there were unconfirmed reports that Tripoli would dispatch a force to secure El Sharara.

Haftar’s forces are allied to a parallel administration based in eastern Libya. His LNA faction last month started a military offensive in eastern Libya to fight militants and secure the region’s oilfields.

An executive at NOC unit AGOCO, citing OMV, said on Twitter the El-Sharara the oilfield could reopen in March. NOC operates Sharara in partnership with Repsol, Total, OMV and Equinor.

NOC is based in the capital Tripoli, in the country’s west, home to the internationally recognized government.

Reporting by Ayman al-Warfalli, Ulf Laessing and Ahmed ElumamiWriting by Ulf LaessingEditing by Alexander Smith, William Maclean

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