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UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) - The United Nations Security Council on Wednesday authorized countries to board ships suspected of carrying oil from Libyan rebel-held ports, days after U.S. naval forces seized an oil-laden tanker that sailed from a rebel zone in chaotic eastern Libya.
Libya's central government and rebel leader Ibrahim Jathran are locked in a long-running standoff over a blockade of three oil ports Jathran's men took over last summer to press for eastern autonomy and a greater share of the country's oil revenues.
The Tripoli-based government has given Jathran's group, which has attempted to export oil on its own, two weeks to clear out of the ports or face a military offensive to end the port blockage, which has crippled the OPEC member country's finances.
The 15-member U.N. Security Council unanimously adopted a legally binding resolution that "condemns attempts to illicitly export crude oil from Libya," and authorizes U.N. member states to board ships with contraband Libyan oil and return the crude to the government.
It gives states that confront a suspected rebel oil tanker the right "to carry out ... inspections and direct the vessel to take appropriate actions to return the crude oil, with the consent of and in coordination with the Government of Libya, to Libya."
It also gives the Security Council's Libya sanctions committee the authority to blacklist vessels that attempt to transport Libyan oil against the wishes of the government. Blacklisted vessels would be temporarily barred from international commerce.
U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Samantha Power in a statement urged members of the United Nations to implement the resolution swiftly "to deter the actions of those who seek to steal Libyan oil."
Libyan oil revenues fund much of the country's budget and services, she noted. "Theft of Libyan oil is theft from the Libyan people," she said.
"These enforcement measures signal to the people and government of Libya that the international community supports Libya's sovereignty and its right to manage its own natural resources," she said.
On Sunday, U.S. forces stormed a North Korean-flagged tanker that had made it as far as the eastern Mediterranean off Cyprus after loading crude at the Es Sider port, one of three Jathran's men have occupied, and eluding Libyan government forces offshore. The ship is on its way back to a government-controlled port.
Writing by Louis Charbonneau; editing by Ellen Wulfhorst, Mohammad Zargham and G Crosse