Clashes in Libyan oil ports escalate as EU threatens sanctions

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Published Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Forces allied to Libya's conflicting parties clashed with heavy weapons on Tuesday over control of the country's biggest oil ports in the east, as the European Union was considering sanctions on individuals obstructing UN-brokered peace talks.

The United Nations had planned to hold a second round of talks this week to end a confrontation between two rival governments and parliaments, but said a military escalation was undermining its efforts.

Oil fields across Libya have been the main targets of rebels seeking to undermine the internationally recognized government’s economic power.

On Saturday, four people were killed and seven injured in airstrikes by forces loyal to Libya's internationally-recognized government led by Prime Minister Abdullah al-Thani, targeting the eastern oil ports of Ras Lanuf and al-Sider to stop an advance by a rival force, officials said.

A force allied to the rival assembly based in Tripoli, the General National Congress (GNC), on Monday moved to the east to try to reclaim the oil ports. Both terminals have closed, drying exports of an estimated 300,000 barrels per day of oil.

The internationally-recognized government, forced to work out of the east since losing control of Tripoli in August, launched more airstrikes on the rival forces positioned near al-Sider, eastern officials said on Wednesday.

They also said the rival force had for the first time used a jet to support its troops, though a spokesman for Thani’s government, Ismail al-Shukri, denied this.

"We confirm the campaign will continue," Shukri told reporters, adding that oil facilities would not be harmed.

GNC spokesman Omar Hmeidan said the assembly supported UN talks but said the venue needed to change and talks should reflect that the GNC was the legitimate body.

"Members of the GNC will attend the talks as representatives of the legislative body," he said, proposing to hold the next round in the southern town of Hun.

The House of Representatives, the legislature aligned with Thani, said in a statement it was supporting the UN-led dialogue but rejected talks with GNC members and its armed factions.

The UN held a first round of talks in September in the southern city of Ghadames by inviting the House of Representatives and opposition members from the town of Misrata, linked to the Libyan Dawn group, which has boycotted sessions.

UN Special Envoy Bernadino Leon said last week the next round would include GNC members. The UN has not given a date or venue, saying on Monday only that talks would hopefully start "soon."

The European Union is ready to consider sanctions on people obstructing a political solution, EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini said.

"They must face consequences for their actions. The EU … remains ready to consider further actions, including restrictive measures, should circumstances so require," she said in a statement.

Amnesty International said in a report in late October that both pro-government and rebel militias vying for control of western Libya are committing war crimes, including torturing detainees and targeting civilians.

(Reuters, Al-Akhbar)

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