Libya will begin exporting crude oil from major oil ports that were captured just days ago by the Libyan National Army (LNA), the privately owned Al-Masry Al-Youm newspaperreported on Friday.
Khalifa Haftar, the leader of the LNA — which represents one of the largest factions in eastern Libya — took four key oil ports, Es Sider, Ras Lanuf, Zueitina and Brega on Tuesday. He seized control from forces linked to the UN-backed Government of National Accord (GNA).
Initially the move stalled exports from the ports, which had been preparing to send off Libya’s first oil shipment since 2014. Haftar has now reached an agreement with Libya’s national oil company to resume exports from at least two of the seized oil ports.
Mostafa Sanalla, the chairman of the National Oil Corporation (NOC) in Libya, said that Haftar had handed over the Zueitina and Ras Lanuf oil terminals, allowing operations to restart, reported the Financial Times. “Exports will resume immediately from Zueitina and Ras Lanuf, and will continue at Brega. Exports will resume from Es Sider as soon as possible,” said Sanalla in a statement.
He added that the resumption of oil exports was a joint decision made by both eastern and western factions in Libya.
Haftar’s seizure of the oil ports sparked international concern about rising tensions between the UN-backed GNA, based out of Tripoli, and the Haftar-led eastern faction. The UN brokered a peace deal between several factions in December. The deal led to the formation of the GNA and a nine-member Presidential Council, but this was not recognized by several major armed groups, including the LNA.
Ziad Akl, a senior researcher at Al-Ahram Center for Political and Strategic Studies, told Mada Masr that Haftar’s decision to seize to the ports was an attempt to pressure the GNA and gain leverage over the UN-backed government. “He is trying to reassert his political influence, and the political influence of the military,” explained Akl.
The United Nations, the United States, France, Germany, Italy, Spain and the United Kingdom all issued statements condemning Haftar’s seizure of the oil ports, calling on all parties to respect the UN-backed GNA. But the resumption of oil exports appears to be a positive sign.
United States Ambassador to the UN Jonathan Winer hailed the move as a “promising development,” adding, “well-placed Libyans say that the military has withdrawn from oil terminals, so NOC controls and can resume work for all.”
Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry also praised the move in a recent press conference, reported Al-Masry Al-Youm. However he was critical of the statements issued by the UN, US and European countries condemning Haftar, calling them “hasty.” He said that the statements did not take into account the internal conditions in Libya, stressing the importance of the LNA’s efforts to ensure security and stability within Libya.
Egypt has long been a supporter of Haftar and the LNA, although they also support the UN-brokered deal. Egypt’s interests are split between concerns over weapons and terrorism, particularly concerning its western border with Libya, and the growing influence of the Islamic State.
Egypt sees Haftar as key to their interests in Libya, particularly when it comes to confronting Islamist forces and Egypt has pushed for an arms embargo to be lifted on Haftar. At the same time Egypt’s policy has been to support the internationally recognized Presidential Council and GNA
Fayez al-Sarraj, leader of the GNA, visited Cairo on Thursday to update Egyptian officials on developments in Libya, reported Al-Masry Al-Youm. His visit suggests that Egypt has relations with both the GNA and the LNA, despite the two factions’ opposition to each other.
UN Special Envoy to Libya Martin Kobler also visited Egypt to discuss the situation in Libya, reported the privately owned Al-Watan newspaper, writing that Kobler arrived in Cairo late Friday to discuss repercussions of the Libya crisis. According to Akl the UN has been putting pressure on Egypt to take a more active role in Libya.
He also told Mada Masr that he believes Egypt could play a key role in reconciling the two sides with each other, but until Egypt’s concerns about the GNA’s ability to secure the Egyptian border are addressed it is unlikely this will happen. He added that the UN has been pressuring Egypt to take a more active role within Libya.
He stated that if there is enough international pressure on Egypt and Algeria — who both play key roles in supporting factions within Libya — then he thinks there could be a rapprochement between eastern and western factions. Algeria supports western factions, while Egypt supports eastern ones.
“If there is enough international pressure on Egypt and Algeria to cooperate on the situation in Libya, what could happen is they could design a structure that guarantees the main security interests of the two countries. It revolves around border security essentially,” explained Akl.
“Their cooperation would 75 percent guarantee an exit from Libya’s current situation,” he concluded.