Libyan forces set conditions for lifting oil blockade

CAIRO (AP) — Forces loyal to a Libyan commander said they are going to only permit the reopening of oil fields and terminals once a mechanism has been set up to fairly distribute revenue across the country, that is split between rival, warring factions.

Powerful tribes in eastern Libya loyal to Khalifa Hifter closed export terminals and choked off major pipelines in the very beginning of the year. The move was aimed at pressuring their rivals in the U.N.-supported government in the administrative centre, Tripoli, in the country’s west.

In a statement late Saturday, Ahmed al-Mosmari, a spokesman for Hifter’s forces, called for oil revenues to flow into a banking account in a foreign country with a “clear mechanism” to distribute funds fairly among Libya’s regions. He failed to name a country to host the account.

He also demanded international guarantees that oil revenues would not to be used to invest in “terrorists and mercenaries.” He was apparently referring to the mercenaries, mostly Syrians, that Turkey introduced recent months to fight on the side of the Tripoli government, that is backed by an array of local militias in addition to Turkey, Qatar and Italy.

Hifter’s forces may also be backed by way of a patchwork of armed groups as well as foreign patrons, like the United Arab Emirates, Egypt, Russia and France.

Al-Mosmari also known as for an audit to Libya’s central bank in Tripoli to examine the spending in the past years.

Oil, the lifeline of Libya’s economy, is definitely at the middle of the civil war, as rival authorities jostle for control of Africa’s largest reserves. The closures have deprived authorities of over $6.5 billion.

Hifter’s supporters say the Libyan Central Bank, that is based in the administrative centre and collects oil revenue, only uses it for the benefit of the Tripoli government.

Last month, the tribes wanted to end the closure included in a political settlement. They mandated Hifter’s forces to negotiate the opening of the oil facilities.

The state-run National Oil Corporation said Friday it has resumed crude exports, shipping 730,000 barrels to Italy. Al-Mosmari said the shipment, which was contracted before the closures, was allowed in order to ease the strain on storage facilities.

In recent weeks, “regional countries” have now been quietly negotiating with the Tripoli-based government over the distribution of oil revenues in talks supervised by the U.N. and the U.S., according to the state-run oil company.

Hifter’s forces launched an offensive in April last year to attempt to capture Tripoli. The offensive quickly stalled, however, and in recent weeks Hifter’s forces have fallen straight back as the Tripoli-allied militias, with Turkish support, gained the top of hand.

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