By Feras Bosalum
TRIPOLI Dec 13 A group that has seized oil
ports as it seeks autonomy for East Libya said it would
negotiate with government officials for a greater share of the
country's wealth but if its demands were not met by Sunday, it
would try to sell crude on its own.
Libya is in turmoil with the government struggling to rein
in militias that helped topple Muammar Gaddafi in 2011 but kept
their guns and now control parts of the North African country.
A mix of Militias, tribesmen and officials have seized
oilfields and export terminals across the country, bringing
exports down to 110,000 barrels a day from more than 1 million
bpd in July.
On Tuesday an eastern autonomy movement said it would end
its seizure of three eastern ports, which previously accounted
for around 600,000 barrels per day (bpd) of exports, if Tripoli
allowed it to take a share of oil revenues.
The group, led by militia leader Ibrahim al-Jathran, which
took the Ras Lanuf, Es-Sider and Zueitina ports to back its
demands, faces mounting pressure to end the blockade as Libyans
grow tired of outages and daily fuel shortages.
"We will hold talks with a government committee on
Saturday," said Abd-Rabbo al-Barassi, prime minister of
Jathran's self-declared eastern government.
"If they agree on our demands, then the ports will reopen on
Sunday. If they don't agree, then we'll insist on selling the
oil without government coordination," he told Reuters by
telephone. He did not say which officials the group would be
meeting in the east.
There was no immediate reaction from the central government.
Officials in Tripoli have previously refused to recognise the
self-declared eastern government and warned that the central
government would attack any tanker trying to load oil at the
Prime Minister Ali Zeidan said on Wednesday the government
was in talks with tribal leaders in the east to get the ports
reopened but refused to deal with Jathran's group.
Oil exports are Libya's lifeline and almost the only source
of the dollars needed to fund imports of wheat and other basic
foodstuffs. The government has warned it will not be able to pay
public salaries if oil strikes continue.
The eastern movement is campaigning for a federalist state
that would share power and wealth between the eastern Cyrenaica,
western Tripoli and southern Fezzan regions.
Many in the east and elsewhere sympathise with such demands
but Zeidan is counting on rising public anger over a loss of oil
revenues and long queues at petrol stations.
Libya's oil production was 220,095 bpd as of Wednesday,
state news agency Lana said. Oil Minister Abdelbari al-Arusi
said exports were 110,000 bpd, while the rest is being used to
keep two refineries running.
Zeidan has been trying to get the ports reopened but has
been weakened by political infighting with parliament and
Islamist opponents. He has announced several times that Hariga
port in Tobruk would resume exporting oil, but the terminal is
still in the hands of tribesmen demanding autonomy.
One problem is that the government has to deal with a mix of
protesters. Apart from Jathran's movement, a separate set of
tribal leaders has blocked Hariga in the far east.
Members of the Amazigh and Tibu, two minority groups, have
also in the past blocked gas or oil supplies to back demands for
their languages to be recognised in the new constitution -
demands that are hard for a weak prime minister to meet.
The oil workers' union for its part has warned that it might
shut the eastern ports again after their reopening unless the
government meets their financial demands. Tripoli had already
agreed to increase oil workers' pay by 67 percent from January.