Troubles continue in Libya as clashes threaten oil production

September 22, 2014 | Latest Featured Articles

By Ken Hanly  | –

Libya’s troubles are increasing as conflict has taken place in the south west of the country and clashes have shut down the El Shalala oil field that supplies the Zawiya refinery that in turn supplies the capital Tripoli with gasoline.

Libya faces a political crisis with the elected government meeting in the far eastern city of Tobruk near the border with Egypt. Many of the legislators stay on a Greek ferry anchored in the harbour. However, the internationally recognized government elected last June has little power. Both the capital Tripoli and the largest city in the east Benghazi are now controlled by umbrella groups of mostly Islamist militias who do not recognize the government in Tobruk.

The opposition groups called a meeting of the General National Council that appointed their own prime minister who was charged with forming a competing government. At the same time, the Tobruk-based government rejected the 16 member cabinet proposed to them by their Prime Minister Abdullah al-Thinni. They ordered him to present a new list with only ten ministers within three days.

In a recent meeting in Madrid 15 countries and representatives from the Libyan government agreed unanimously to reject foreign military intervention. There already has been some foreign intervention as there were several night raids on Islamist militia positions in Tripoli. They are claimed to have been from the UAE and Egypt by the rebels and the US as well. General Haftar claimed they were a joint operation by his forces and the international community. The Islamist militias still won control of Tripoli. It is not clear how a political solution can be reached. The UN has been trying without success to broker a ceasefire between the main groups fighting, those loyal to CIA-Linked General Haftar who in May launched his Operation Dignity by attacking two Islamist bases in Benghazi. Later his allies attacked and burned the parliament and kidnapped some Islamist lawmakers and officials. Now his opponents control the capital and Benghazi. At a press conference head of the UN mission Spanish diplomat Bernardino Leon claimed that dialogue is the only solution to Libya’s current crisis, but at the same time he admitted that the UN mission did not meet with members of the GNC or the competing government. Because of security concerns the UN staff are operating out of Tunisia rather than Libya at present.

The large Sharara oil field in the southwest has been shut down as has the Zawiya refinery that is connected to the field. The two were shut down after conflict between rival groups damaged a storage tank at the refinery according to an official from the oil ministry.

There are different versions of what happened in recent clashes near the oil field. One account is that ethnic Tibu fighters attacked a police station in Ubari near the Sharara field after an attempt to smuggle in fellow tribesmen from Algeria was foiled. Up to 12 people were reported killed and as many as 27 wounded according to hospital medics. Another account is that the attack was part of an attempt by militia from Misrata to gain access to the Sharara oil field in order to extend their area of control. Representatives from the Misrata militia had been meeting with local groups and tribes. The nearby city of Sabha has a significant presence of the Third Force, which is part of the Libya Shield Central militia an Islamist group. The Misrata militia will no doubt try to work out some type of cooperative arrangement if possible. The Tebu tribes apparently exercise considerable control over smuggling routes and would not look kindly on security officials interfering with their activities. There could be even more violence in the south if the Tebu or others try to take control of the city of Sabha or the Sharara oil fields themselves. For now local arrangements have kept the city relatively quiet especially compared to what has happened in the northern cities of Benghazi and Tripoli.