Libya releases crew of tanker that loaded oil at rebel port

TRIPOLI, March 24 Mon Mar 24, 2014 1:09pm EDT

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TRIPOLI, March 24 (Reuters) - Libya will release the crew of a tanker that loaded oil at a rebel-held port and was stopped by the U.S. navy off Cyprus, its state prosecutor said on Monday.

Three Libyan rebel fighters who had boarded the tanker will stay in jail, Abdelqadir Rawdan told Reuters. The crew was made up of sailors from Pakistan, India, Syria, Sudan and other countries.

"The crew will be released and expelled," he said.

On Sunday, the Morning Glory arrived in the Libyan capital Tripoli after U.S. special forces stormed the tanker a week ago and handed it over to Libya's nascent navym which had initially failed to stop it.

The ship had docked two weeks ago at the Es Sider port, which is under control of rebels demanding autonomy and a greater share of oil for Libya's east of the country.

Rawdan said the crew was still being investigated but it was clear that its members had acted at gun point.

The return of the tanker was a rare victory for Tripoli, which is struggling to end a port blockade by rebels, one of many challenges facing the central government which has failed to secure the country three years after the fall of Muammar Gaddafi.

Former anti-Gaddafi rebels and militias refuse to surrender their weapons and often use force or control of oil facilities to make demands on a state whose army is still in training with Western governments.

Western governments, which backed NATO's air strikes to help the 2011 anti-Gaddafi revolt, are pressing the factions to reach a political settlement. (Reporting by Feras Bosalum and Ulf Laessing; Editing by William Hardy)

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