Eastern Libyan forces take over El Sharara oilfield

Eastern Libyan forces take over El Sharara oilfield
Self-proclaimed Libyan National Army's (LNA) Chief of special forces Major General Wanis Boukhmada (1st-R) attends a graduation ceremony in Benghazi on Dec. 31, 2018. (Abdullah Doma/AFP/Getty Images)

BENGHAZI, Libya—Eastern Libyan forces loyal to Libyan commander Khalifa Haftar captured the closed El Sharara oilfield on Feb. 6, officials said in a challenge to the Tripoli government.

El Sharara was taken over on Dec. 8 by groups of tribesmen, armed protesters and state guards demanding salary payments and development funds.

But some tribesmen demanding development funds remained at the 315,000 barrel-per-day oilfield, one of their protest leaders told Reuters.

Haftar’s Libyan National Army (LNA) group, which is based in the east, called oil firm NOC to lift force majeure, a contractual waiver, it had declared when it shut down production.

NOC declined to comment.

The LNA said it had met no resistance. “Our forces arrived safely at the field,” a spokesman for the forces, Ahmed Mismari, told a news conference in Benghazi, where the LNA is headquartered.

A tribal protest leader told Reuters: “With the army (LNA) we can find an understanding as they are military people.” He did not elaborate and it was impossible to get more details.

Libya’s oil industry has faced disruption since unrest began, with rival power centers in the west and east. Protesters and armed groups have often targeted oilfields and energy infrastructure.

Haftar is a dominant figure in the east where his LNA seized the second-largest city of Benghazi in 2017 by expelling Islamist and other fighters.

Last month, his forces started an offensive in the south to fight militants and secure its oilfields, and on Feb. 6 made good on the promise by moving on the El Sharara field.

A video posted online showed jubilant soldiers at the oilfield which is located deep in Libya’s south and had previously belonged to the Tripoli-based internationally recognized government.

A resident confirmed LNA solders were inside the oilfield, a vast complex stretching for kilometers.

A Tripoli official, asking not to be named, acknowledged that the LNA was holding El Sharara. He declined further comment and there was no statement from the Tripoli government.

By Ayman al-Warfalli