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Libyan forces seize disputed oil tanker

The Morning Glory has loaded crude oil worth $30 million at the Es Sider port, bypassing Tripoli authorities

Published: Updated:

Pro-government Libyan rebels from the city of Misurata have taken over a North Korean-flagged oil tanker docked at a terminal held by a regional militia, where it had been attempting to load oil, Al Arabiya correspondent reported.

Adel al-Tarhouni of the Libyan Revolution Operations Room, a pro-government militia, said told Associated Press that the ship’s captain surrendered Monday evening. It had been surrounded by a pro-government flotilla, including fishing boats armed with mortars operated by militias, for two days.

Al-Sidra is one of Libya’s main oil export terminals. It has been held for months by eastern fighters demanding more regional autonomy from Tripoli.

Essam al-Jahani, affiliated to the eastern militia, denied the government’s claims. He said his group arrested some pro-government fighters.

Meanwhile, Libya’s parliament has ordered a special force to be sent within one week to “liberate” all rebel-held ports in the volatile east, officials said on Monday, raising the stakes over a blockage that has cut off vital oil revenue.

The conflict over oil wealth is increasing fears that Libya may slide deeper into chaos or even splinter as the fragile government fails to rein in dozens of militias that helped oust Muammar Qaddafi in 2011 but now defy state authority.

The rebels, who have seized three ports and partly control a fourth in the OPEC member country, said they had dispatched forces to central Libya to deal with any government attack.

The head of parliament, who has quasi-presidential powers, ordered the formation of a force made up of regular soldiers and allied militias to take back the ports, which previously handled a total of more than 700,000 barrels of oil per day.

The operation will start within one week, parliament head Nuri Ali Abu Sahmain said in a decree published by spokesman Omar Hmeidan. “The force will be set up to liberate the ports and end the blockage,” Hmeidan told Reuters.

Prime Minister Ali Zeidan, who said on Saturday the tanker, Morning Glory, would be bombed if it tried to export oil, is now in a much stronger position with the parliament throwing its weight behind military action.
Defiant rebels

Libya has been trying to rebuild its army since Qaddafi’s overthrow, but analysts say it is not yet a match for battle-hardened militias that fought in the eight-month uprising that toppled him.

Still, the force will be drawn from cities such as Misrata that are home to fighters who saw battle in the civil war, according to the decree. Misrata forces were sent earlier this year to assist with clashes deep in Libya’s south.

Abb-Rabbo al-Barassi, self-declared prime minister in the rebel movement, called on “all honorable men” in the east to join his forces, a rebel television station quoted him as saying.

The rebels, made up of former oil security guards, said they had sent forces by land and sea to central Libya to confront any government attackers. The east and west are connected by a coastal highway road.

“We have sent land forces to defend Cyrenaica to the west of Sirte ... and we also have boats patrolling regional waters,” Essam al-Jahani, a member of the rebels’ leadership team, told Reuters.

Cyrenaica is the historic name for eastern Libya, for which the rebels demand political autonomy and a share of oil revenues like under King Idris, who preceded Qaddafi.

Sirte, Qaddafi’s birthplace, is a coastal city that forms a stronghold for Islamists and militias in central Libya.

[With Reuters and AP]