* Northwestern Mellitah complex shut down since Saturday
* Mellitah a joint venture between state oil company, Eni
* Incident latest violent disruption to sector
By Ali Shuaib and Marie-Louise Gumuchian
TRIPOLI, March 3 Libya has stopped gas exports
to Italy from its Mellitah complex after fighting on Saturday
between militias, Libya's National Oil Corporation (NOC) and
Italy's Eni said on Sunday.
Libya's defence ministry sent security personnel to secure
the complex, about 100 km (60 miles) west of the capital
Tripoli, to ensure exports could resume soon, said Abdufattah
Shagan, chairman of Mellitah, an NOC-Eni joint venture.
Mellitah supplies Italy with gas through the Greenstream
pipeline, which at full capacity pumps at least 8 billion cubic
metres. Italy gets most of its gas from Algeria, Russia and
Norway, with Libya providing about 10 percent.
"Gas exports have been completely halted," NOC deputy
chairman Mustafa Sunalla told Reuters on Sunday.
Saturday's firefight began after an argument between former
rebel fighters from nearby Zuwara and others from Zintan over
who should guard Mellitah, security officials said, adding the
clashes were now over.
Deputy Oil Minister Omar Shakmak told a news conference in
Tripoli one person was killed and several injured. Khaled
Bukrayat, a member of Zuwara Media centre which compiles local
news, said seven people were seriously injured.
It was the latest violent disruption to the energy industry
in Libya where protests have shut down oil-export terminals in
recent months and in the North African region following
January's bloody hostage-taking at an Algerian gas plant.
Thousands of former rebels who fought to overthrow former
leader Muammar Gaddafi in 2011 have been employed in a
protection force to look after Libyan oil and gas installations.
But in recent months activists and local militia have
disrupted operations in Libya's main industry, pursuing goals
such as better living conditions or more regional autonomy. In
July they forced the closure of three major oil terminals.
This has hurt OPEC member Libya's oil output, which returned
to close to pre-war levels of 1.6 million barrels per day (bpd)
faster than analysts expected after the 2011 conflict.
Eni said gas flows from Mellitah to Gela, Sicily, had been
halted and Italy's industry ministry had been alerted.
Speaking from the complex, where only emergency staff were
present, Mellitah's Shagan told Reuters defence ministry
vehicles were on their way.
"As soon as they guarantee the security, we will resume
exports in 48 hours," he said. Defence Minister Mohammed
al-Barghathi told Reuters the armed forces were on their way:
"They are under instructions to allow (former rebels) there
to leave and then the army will look after the facility."
Mellitah has two plants - one treating oil and condensate
from the Wafa fields and another for gas and condensate from the
Sabratha offshore platform, according to Mellitah's website.
A senior Libyan oil official said production at both Wafa
and Sabratha had been affected by the Mellitah shutdown.
A Zuwara resident said on Sunday tensions had escalated for
days before the dispute. "There were two bouts of fighting
yesterday," said the resident, who gave his name as Ayub.
"From what I understand, some of the Mellitah staff were
evacuated, others came to Zuwara by boat from there."
In December, protesters seeking jobs and better living
conditions shut down the Zueitina terminal for around two
months, halting around 60,000-70,000 bpd of oil exports.
While the return of foreign oil companies - including Eni -
to Libya helped it increase its output after the 2011 uprising,
foreign workers have been slow to return to the country, awash
with weapons, because of precarious security.
"Such disruptions hurt the Libyan people's national income,"
Shakmak said. "Security is the basis of stability and is needed
to ensure the presence of foreign companies here."
Separately, four security force members were injured during
a failed attempt to evacuate protesters who have occupied the
national assembly in Tripoli for weeks demanding compensation
for injuries sustained in the 2011 war, the government said.
The group of about 30 war wounded have forced congress
members to find temporary venues for sessions since last month.
When security forces tried to get them to leave on Sunday,
the protesters fought back, throwing a grenade, officials said.