Militants Seize Oil Fields in Central Libya

Al-Akhbar is currently going through a transitional phase whereby the English website is available for Archival purposes only. All new content will be published in Arabic on the main website (www.al-akhbar.com).

Al-Akhbar Management

Published Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Updated at 5:59 pm (GMT+2): Islamist militants seized control of at least two oil fields in central Libya on Tuesday, a spokesman for the country's oil industry security service said.

"Extremists took control of the al-Bahi and al-Mabrouk fields and are now heading to seize the al-Dahra field following the retreat of the force guarding these sites, due to lack of ammunition," Colonel Ali al-Hassi said.

Violence and a slow-down at export terminals has already forced a shutdown at the Bahi and Mabrouk fields, about 310 miles (500 kilometers) east of Tripoli, for the last several weeks.

Meanwhile, two unidentified warplanes on Wednesday carried out airstrikes on the airport of the western Libyan town of Zintan, damaging electricity systems but not the runway, a local official said. Zintan is allied with the country's internationally-recognized government.

On Tuesday, Hassi said that militia warplanes had attacked the major export terminal at Sidra but were driven off without hitting their targets.

In response, planes from the internationally-recognized air force struck Tripoli's militia-controlled Mitiga airport without causing any casualties, said the head of the internationally-recognized government's air force.

An attack on the Bahi and Mabrouk sites in February killed 11 people and all staff were evacuated.

Libya has been awash with weapons since the 2011 uprising that toppled and killed Muammar Gaddafi, and opposing militias have since been battling for control of its cities and oil wealth.

Meanwhile, Libya's internationally-recognized parliament agreed on Monday to return to UN-sponsored peace negotiations one week after pulling out, as a delegate from its rival assembly said the talks would resume on Thursday.

The United Nations said on Wednesday that representatives of Libyan leaders had been invited for talks next week in Algeria as part of efforts to resolve their country's conflict.

An Algerian minister, meanwhile, said his country had already hosted secret meetings in recent months between 200 Libyan figures.

"Some of them (the meetings) have resulted in signatures," said Abdelder Messahel, minister for African and Maghreb affairs.

Western powers see the UN talks as the only chance to end turmoil in Libya, where a power struggle between two rival governments and their armed factions risks pushing the North African country deeper into civil war four years after a NATO-backed revolt overthrew Gaddafi.

Fighting between the two factions has cut into Libya's vital crude exports and has also allowed militants claiming loyalty to the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) to gain a foothold in the large desert nation.

The UN talks have yielded little concrete progress so far toward a unity government, a lasting ceasefire and getting Libya's transition to full democracy back on track. Ceasefires have been difficult to keep.

In another development on Monday that might complicate the UN talks, Khalifa Haftar was appointed as army commander for Libya's internationally-recognized government.

The appointment of Haftar, a former Gaddafi ally who later joined the 2011 Western-backed revolt against the Libyan leader, is likely to stoke tensions with the Tripoli-based government, which sees his rise as a sign that the old guard is regaining strength.

Almost four years after a NATO-backed war ended Gaddafi's one-man rule in 2011, Libya is struggling with instability as two rival administrations compete for power and warring armed factions skirmish for control of territory across the North African state.

Thani's government was forced to flee to the country's east in June after militias, among them Islamists known as Fajr Libya (Libyan Dawn), seized Tripoli and other main cities.

(AFP, Al-Akhbar)

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