Saturday, December 27, 2014

Fire Engulfs Libya’s Largest Oil Terminal
Financial Times

Fire engulfed Libya’s largest oil terminal, almost two weeks into an offensive by Islamist militias attempting to seize control of the facility. Images broadcast on Libyan television on Friday showed part of the el-Sidr oil export terminal, in the east of the country, in flames and spewing black smoke.

The terminal, which can export 400,000 barrels a day of crude oil, has been shut down since militias, known as Libya Dawn and loyal to the self-declared government in Tripoli, began moving from their stronghold in the central city of Sirte in an attempt to seize the facility. Control of the oil facilities is seen as a way of altering the balance of the seven-month long civil war.

The increasingly complex conflict has pitted militia groups, which seized control of Tripoli in August and are loyal to the Islamist-leaning government of Omar Hassi, against the elected and internationally recognised government now with its headquarters in the eastern city of Tubruq. Those forces supporting the Tubruq government are led by General Khalifa Haftar, an anti-Islamist officer backed by the United Arab Emirates and Egypt.

The country’s oil resources have been at the centre of recent battles, with each side manoeuvring to take control of oil facilities and cash reserves.

The fighting in Libya has cut its oil production from almost 900,000 barrels a day in October to around 350.000 b/d now, according to the state oil company.

The conflict has in recent months claimed hundreds of lives, and led to the displacement of half a million people, many to neighbouring Tunisia, according to a UN report issued this week.

Fighting between Islamist militias and forces under the command of Gen Haftar left at least two dozen dead and injured on Thursday in the city of Benghazi.

Bernardino Leon, UN special envoy to Libya, has struggled to get representatives of the two sides to the negotiation table. He has set January 10 as a possible date for talks, although previous attempts have faltered.

El-Sidr’s defenders have accused Libya Dawn of setting fire to the terminal after attacking from the sea by speedboat. Libya Dawn, in turn, claimed the pro-Tubruq forces bombed the site with warplanes.

Violence has plagued Libya since the Nato-backed 2011 overthrow and brutal mob murder of Muammer Gaddafi.

Two broad warring camps emerged after Islamist-leaning groups and their regional allies lost June 2014 elections and seized the capital. A controversial court decision last month that appeared to annul that vote further deepened Libya’s crisis.

The fire at el-Sidr followed the killing of at least 14 soldiers in an attack on Wednesday by unknown armed men on a gas facility in Sirte, Gaddafi’s home town and now a stronghold of the jihadist Ansar al-sharia, a UN-designated terror group allied with Libya Dawn.

A day earlier unknown armed men murdered an Egyptian Coptic Christian physician and his family in the nearby town of Jaraf. The physician, Magdi Towfik, had reportedly been working in Libya for 15 years.

In a statement the UN mission to Libya said: “These heinous murders, apparently committed for religious motives by unidentified gunmen, are totally rejected by the Libyan people and are alien to their tradition of tolerance towards religious minorities and hospitality extended to foreign guests.”

So far, the slide in Libyan oil production has had little effect on oil prices. Brent crude, the international benchmark, was down 23 cents at $60.01 on Friday.

Additional reporting by Neil Hume

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