BENGHAZI – Libyan Field Marshal Khalifa Haftar announced Friday a conditional lifting of a months-long blockade on oilfields and ports by his Libyan National Army (LNA) forces.
“We have decided to resume oil production and export on condition of a fair distribution of revenues” and guarantee they “will not be used to support terrorism,” he said on television.
In Tripoli, the Government of National Accord’s (GNA’s) deputy prime minister, Ahmed Maiteeg, issued a statement immediately after Haftar’s speech also saying it “had been decided” to resume oil production, adding this would involve a new committee to oversee revenue distribution.
The committee would coordinate between the two sides to prepare a budget and transfer funds to cover payments and deal with the public debt, he said.
However, neither Haftar nor Maiteeg addressed the presence of LNA and allied forces in oil production and export facilities, which Libya’s National Oil Corporation (NOC) has said must be withdrawn to ensure the safety of its staff before it will resume output.
NOC, which operates Libya’s energy sector, said overnight it would not lift force majeure on exports until oil facilities were demilitarised.
“In light of the current chaos and non-organised negotiations, force majeure can’t be lifted,” NOC’s Chairman Mustafa Sanallah said in a statement.
Pro-Haftar forces supported by the Petroleum Facilities Guard blockaded key oilfields and export terminals on January 17 to demand what they called a fair share of hydrocarbon revenues.
The blockade, which has resulted in more than $9.8 billion in lost revenue, according to NOC, has exacerbated electricity and fuel shortages in the country.
Haftar said the command of his forces had “put aside all military and political considerations” to respond to the “deterioration of living conditions” in Libya, which has Africa’s largest oil reserves.
The announcement comes after hundreds of Libyans protested last week in the eastern city of Benghazi, one of Haftar’s strongholds, and other cities over corruption, power cuts and shortages in petrol and cash.
Protesting peacefully at first, protesters on Sunday set fire to the headquarters of the parallel eastern government in Benghazi and attacked the police station in Al-Marj.
Police officers fired live ammunition to disperse them in Al-Marj, leaving at least one dead and several wounded, according to witnesses and the UN mission in Libya.
Libya has been in chaos since a NATO-backed uprising toppled and killed longtime ruler Muammar Qaddafi in 2011.
The country’s oil revenues are managed by the NOC and the central bank, both based in Tripoli, which is also the seat of Libya’s internationally recognised GNA.
Haftar, who runs a rival administration based in the country’s east, launched an offensive against Tripoli in April last year.
After 14 months of fierce fighting, pro-GNA forces backed by Turkey expelled his troops from much of western Libya and pushed them to Sirte, the gateway to Libya’s rich oil fields and export terminals.
GNA Prime Minister Fayez al-Sarraj said on Wednesday he planned to step down by the end of October and analysts have said this would lead to political jockeying among other senior figures in Tripoli to succeed him.