Voice of America (Washington, DC)

8 March 2014

Libya: Threat Issued in Libyan Oil Export Dispute

Photo: Al Jazeera
Libya has threatened to attack a North Korean ship over seized oil.

Cairo — Leaders of eastern Libya's self-declared autonomous region of Barqa declared Saturday that they had begun exporting oil from the port of Sidra and would share revenues with the central government in accordance with a 1951 constitution. Prime Minister Ali Zeidan told journalists later that government authorities have warned a North Korean-flagged oil tanker to leave Libyan waters or face attack.

Libyan Prime Minister Ali Zeidan repeated an official warning to a North Korean-flagged oil tanker Saturday afternoon to "leave Libyan waters" or face attack.

He said that the North Korean tanker, bearing the name Morning Glory, entered the Libyan port of Sidra, breaking international law, and was warned to leave or face attack. He stressed that the ship has said it would like to leave, but is being forced by militiamen to load crude.

Zeidan indicated that his government hoped to resolve the crisis "as soon as possible" but that a government attack on the ship "would create an ecological disaster." He added that "orders for the ship to leave were not carried out by the army," due to an internal conflict.

He said that the Libyan Army chief of staff was refusing to accept orders from the defense minister or from the government, making it impossible to make the army take action.

Reuters news agency reported that militiamen in the port of Sidra had overseen the loading of the North Korean oil tanker. The ship has reportedly been in Libyan territorial waters since Tuesday. Militia leader Ibrahim Jadran in nearby Ajdabiya is reportedly behind the tug-of-war.

Leaders of the eastern separatist region of Barqa, who have declared autonomy from Libya's central government several times since 2012, told journalists that they endorsed the export of oil, which they claim as a right under a 1951 constitution dividing the country into 3 regions.

Abdrabou al-Barassi, the self-styled "prime minister" of the Braqa region insisted that his region would continue oil exports and would not accept threats from the central government.

He said that his region would not accept any threats with respect to ships or tankers dealing with it. He claimed that he was not making any threats and did not want to use force, but that his region was claiming its rights and warned against any attack.

Al-Barassi went on to argue that his region was "protecting the oil wealth of all Libyans," and that it would "return 15 percent of revenues to the central government," in accordance with an old arrangement under the regime of King Idriss al-Senoussi, who was deposed in 1969.

Another separatist official, Sheikh Mabreik al-Lawati, urged Western governments to buy oil from his region.

He said that his region has opened the spigots to export oil both from the port of Sidra and from another port in Tobruk and is urging Western nations like Britain, France, the U.S., Italy and Germany to buy this oil.

U.S. Ambassador to Libya Deborah Jones tweeted Saturday from a conference on Libya in Istanbul that "purchase of oil within Libya from anyone other than [government] entities amounts to theft from the Libyan people." Libya's acting oil minister Omar Shakmak called the attempt to export oil from Sidra "an act of piracy."

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