Soldiers under Libyan General Khalifa Hifter have seized at least two oil ports from a militia loyal to the UN-backed unity government. The popular military commander supports the rival cabinet in Tobruk.
Hifter’s Libyan National Army (LNA) launched a surprise attack on Sunday, driving members of the Petrol Facilities Guard (PFG) from a strategic area on Libya’s Mediterranean coast.
LNA claimed control of the key ports of al-Sidra and Ras Lanuf (above photo), which are capable of handling 700,000 barrels of oil per day, a militia spokesman said.
“Clashes are now ongoing near the Zuwaytina port” further east, Colonel Ahmed al-Mosmary said. “We will continue to move till we secure the whole area.”
He added that the LNA had suffered no casualties and that the PFG had not offered much resistance.
The PFG is allied with the newly formed UN-backed unity government in Tripoli. The new cabinet is struggling to assert its authority in the divided country. The loss of ports in the oil-rich region deals a strong blow to those efforts and might prompt further bloodshed in the struggle for Libya’s key natural resource.
UN Libya envoy Martin Kobler said on Twitter he was worried about the clashes.
General Khalifa Hifter is celebrated as a hero in the east of Libya, and serves as the main military commander for the government in Tobruk, which was pushed out of Tripoli by Islamic extremists. Both he and the Tobruk administration have so far refused to endorse the unity government.
Hifter’s opponents accuse him of trying to become a dictator similar to Moammar Gadhafi, who was deposed in 2011. In a radio message to his troops ahead of the Sunday attack, the general urged the soldiers not to harm civilians or damage the facilities.
“Zero hour has arrived, so march forward like wolves and charge like lions,” he said.
dj/tj (AFP, Reuters, AP)