Libya's Sanalla says National Oil Corp still answers to him

July 14 (Reuters) - Mustafa Sanalla said executives and affiliated companies of Libya’s National Oil Corporation (NOC) still recognise him as chairman after the Tripoli-based government said it had replaced him and installed a new chief in the company headquarters.

Sanalla told Reuters in a phone interview on Thursday that he was still in Tripoli and working on what he called “mitigation” efforts to resolve the crisis, without elaborating on what they were.

He said that without international pressure, the crisis could lead to the emergence of a parallel NOC as happened during the country’s last civil war when rival administrations ruled in east and west.

“Unless there is a commitment like before from the international community, this is expected,” he said.

Prime Minister Abdulhamid al-Dbeibah’s decision on Tuesday to replace Sanalla has aggravated Libya’s political crisis and threatens to pull NOC into the factional infighting that it has mostly avoided during years of conflict.

A new NOC chairman appointed by Dbeibah, Farhat Bengdara, was installed in the company headquarters on Thursday after an armed force deployed at the building.

However, it was not immediately clear how far the company would recognise his authority. Two major subsidiaries, Al Waha Oil Co and Arabian Gulf Oil Co (AGOCO), issued statements backing Bengdara as chairman.

However, Al Waha Oil Co swiftly removed the statement from its social media feed. AGOGO is located in Benghazi, home to eastern commander Khalifa Haftar who analysts say is an ally of Bengdara.

“All of them (the NOC subsidiaries) are with us,” Sanalla said.

“Their loyalty is to NOC,” he added of company employees in the east, saying that during previous bouts of conflict they had not recognised the authority of the parallel company set up by an eastern-based government.

Sanalla says Dbeibah did not have the authority to sack him because the Government of National Unity’s mandate had expired. Dbeibah rejects that, saying his term will only end with an election.

Foreign powers have mostly avoided picking sides between Dbeibah and the eastern-based parliament, which in March appointed a new prime minister whom Dbeibah has prevented from entering Tripoli.

Sanalla acknowledged having transferred NOC revenue to the central bank earlier this year for use by Dbeibah’s government - a fact that his critics say shows he recognised Dbeibah as prime minister.

He told Reuters he had made the transfer to ensure state funding continued for public services.

Under previous international agreements, the government has the authority to replace the NOC board and chairman without seeking approval from the parliament.

However, it was not immediately clear whether the international community would recognise Dbeibah’s appointment of Bengdara as the new NOC chief given the challenges to his government’s legitimacy.

A U.S. statement praised Sanalla and pointed to the need to maintain NOC’s independence.

U.N. Security Council resolutions recognise NOC as the sole legitimate producer of Libyan crude. During the last bout of conflict, the international community stopped the parallel NOC branch set up by the eastern administration from selling crude.

Reporting by Angus McDowall Editing by Marguerita Choy