22 May 2013

Libya: Gunmen Target Local Oil Installation

Photo: Africa Undisguised
An offshore oil rig.

Tripoli — An armed group on Monday (May 20th) struck the Mellitah oil and gas complex west of Tripoli, wounding at least two guards.

According to a source at the facility, armed assailants from "outside the area" mounted their attack in the early morning. They were able to seize arms and some twenty vehicles before taking off, Libya Herald reproted.

Colonel Juma Abdul Jalil, commander of the 103rd Battalion in charge of guarding the complex, along with a soldier from the 4th Battalion of the Western Military Zone, were wounded in the attack.

The plant reportedly sustained no damage.

Aerial reconnaissance was immediately ordered. The chief of staff's office also directed a brigade from Libya Shield Forces in the Western Zone to hunt down the attackers.

The Mellitah energy plant is jointly operated by the National Oil Corporation and Italy's Eni.

In March, the site near Az-Zawiya saw deadly clashes between the Zintan and Zwara militias. The national army had to be called in to defend the crucial economic facility.

While the latest Mellitah incident did not disrupt production, Libya's energy sector continues to face problems.

Last week, the Zueitina oil terminal halted operations after a protest.

Deputy Oil and Gas Minister Omar Shakmak said last Wednesday that the sit-in which begun that morning had "forced the closure of the Zueitina oil terminal".

People demanding jobs at the terminal took part in the protest. More than 340 of them had been promised positions by the National Oil Corporation.

The terminal re-opened after an agreement was reached with the protestors.

It was the second time for the facility, located 870km east of Tripoli, to be closed. The first was in the winter of 2012.

"These incidents give a negative picture of Libya to the foreign companies that invest in the oil sector, and send them a message that Libya is not a stable, secure country," journalist Muftah Belaid said.

Lobna al-Sheikh, an oil sector engineer, said, "This is the wealth of Libyan people. An attack on it is an attack on economy and legitimacy. As to attacking the army, it's barbarism and a crime, and stealing cars confirms it. This is happening in the absence of army and police."

"Where are the government's forces? Can they just attack such an important oil complex and steal army's vehicles?" asked Abdel Hadi, an engineering student.

"I think we're afraid now because the army is exhausted," he added.

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