Haftar’s forces gain control of Libya’s largest oil field

FILE PHOTO: A general view of the Al Sharara oilfield, Libya December 3, 2014. REUTERS/Ismail Zitouny/File Photo
FILE PHOTO: A general view of the Al-Sharara oilfield, Libya December 3, 2014. REUTERS/Ismail Zitouny/File Photo

Libyan forces from the country’s east claim they have taken control of Libya’s largest oil field, as they battle rival forces loyal to the UN-recognised, Tripoli-based government.

The self-styled Libyan National Army (LNA), led by Field Marshal Khalifa Haftar in fractured Libya’s east, seized control of the Al-Sharara field aspart of an expansion of control over Libya’s oil revenues.

In a statement, LNA spokesman Ahmed Mesmari says the move was taken in order to provide security to an area that was previously lawless.

He added that it was made in collaboration with local tribes, and grievances over salaries would be addressed.

While Mesmari claimed the installation was largely seized without violence, other local reports suggest five people were killed and 16 injured in the fighting.

The Al-Sharara field has been closed by the Libyan National Oil Corporation (NOC) since December, after it was seized by local tribes demanding the Tripoli government did more to support the area and lift it out of poverty.

Haftar forces, which already control of large portions of Libyan oil including the “oil crescent” in the north, moved south last month in what was billed as an operation to clear out terrorists and militias.

The southward move was assisted on Sunday by French air forces, whose warplanes reportedly bombed 40 rebel pickup trucks as they crossed into northern Chad from Libya while allegedly fleeing the LNA offensive.

France’s foreign ministry said on Tuesday that Haftar’s operation had “eliminated terrorist targets” and was a way to “durably hinder the activities of human traffickers”.

In January the United Nations Mission Support in Libya (UNSMIL) expressed a “deep concern” about the armed forces mobilization and the potential consequences. It called upon all parties to “exercise maximum restraint” and prevent risk of growing imminent conflict.

The fighting could potentially impact UN plans to convene a national conference, possibly next month, aiming to lead to either parliamentary or presidential elections and a new constitution. A date and venue for the conference has yet to be established by the UN, which is still trying to win an agreement on the agenda of the meeting and who will be attending.