February 6, 2019
BENGHAZI, Libya (Reuters) – Eastern Libyan forces loyal to Libyan commander Khalifa Haftar took over the El-Sharara oilfield on Wednesday, its spokesman said, in a direct challenge to the Tripoli government.
The 315,000-barrels a day oilfield has been closed since December when tribesmen and state security forces seized it, making demands for payments and development aid.
Libya’s oil industry has faced disruption since unrest began, with rival power centres in the west and east. Protesters and armed groups have often targeted oilfields and energy infrastructure.
Haftar is a dominant figure in the east where his Libyan National Army (LNA) seized the second-largest city of Benghazi in 2017 by expelling Islamist and other fighters.
Last month, his forces started an offensive in the south to fight militants and secure its oilfields, and on Wednesday made good on the promise by moving on the El-Sharara field.
“Our forces arrived safely at the field,” a spokesman for the forces, Ahmed Mismari, told a news conference.
No further details were immediately available and state oil firm NOC had no immediate comment on the field, which is located deep in Libya’s south and had been previously formally belonged to the Tripoli-based internationally recognised government.
Tripoli had earlier on Wednesday appointed a military commander for the main southern city of Sabha and there were unconfirmed reports that Tripoli would dispatch a force to secure El-Sharara.
Haftar’s forces are allied to a parallel administration based in eastern Libya. His LNA faction last month started a military offensive in eastern Libya to fight militants and secure the region’s oilfields.
An executive at NOC unit AGOCO, citing OMV, said on Twitter the El-Sharara the oilfield could reopen in March. NOC operates Sharara in partnership with Repsol, Total, OMV and Equinor.
NOC is based in the capital Tripoli, in the country’s west, home to the internationally recognized government.
(Reporting by Ayman al-Warfalli: Writing by Ulf Lessing; Editing by Alexander Smith)