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Haftar's forces warn Libyan oil blockade will continue

Pro-Haftar units opposed to UN-backed government have blocked oil production since January, demanding a share of revenues
A Libyan tank keeps guard outside an oil field (AFP)

The UN-backed Libyan government's attempts to revive oil production could be thwarted by forces loyal to the rival military commander in eastern Libya, Khalifa Haftar, who warned they planed to continue an oil blockade.

Haftar's Libyan National Army (LNA) have been blocking the production and export of oil since January, claiming they want a fair distribution of the oil revenues managed by the Tripoli-based and UN-endorsed Government of National Accord (GNA). 

"The closure of ports and oil fields will be maintained until the demands of the Libyan people are satisfied," said a statement published late Saturday on Facebook by pro-Haftar forces spokesman Ahmad al-Mismari.

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"Only one oil tanker" is authorised to load "a quantity of stored oil", as agreed "with the international community and brotherly and friendly countries" that have requested it, said the statement without elaborating. 

Libya's National Oil Corporation (NOC) had announced on 10 July the resumption of crude production and exports after a nearly six-month shutdown due to the conflict dividing the country.

Oil exports are the source of almost all state revenue in Libya, which has been mired in chaos since the overthrow and killing of former ruler Muammar Gaddafi in a 2011 Nato-backed uprising.

A first ship was due to start loading crude from the Al-Sidra oil port in the east of the country, the NOC had said.

But the state oil giant warned it would take time for output to return to previous levels because of major damage to energy infrastructure.

Supported by Turkey, pro-GNA forces have scored important victories in recent months, regaining control of the northwest and driving out forces loyal to Haftar, who had launched an abortive offensive in April 2019 to seize Tripoli.

Haftar is backed by Egypt, the United Arab Emirates and Russia. 

On 10 July, the NOC said it had "lifted force majeure [a measure used in exceptional circumstances that allows it to be exonerated from liability in the event of non-compliance with oil delivery contracts] on all oil exports from Libya". 

Earlier this month, the NOC had reported talks, "supervised by the United Nations and the United States", to allow the resumption of production.

On Sunday, the NOC resumed force majeure and said that the UAE was behind the renewed blockade on oil exports.

"NOC has been informed that the instructions to shut down production were given to (the LNA) by the United Arab Emirates," it said in a statement.

There was no immediate comment on the NOC's accusation from either the LNA or the UAE.