April 24, 2014 / 4:39 PM / in 5 years

Libya rebels warn Tripoli oil ports to stay closed unless deal implemented

TRIPOLI (Reuters) - A rebel group in eastern Libya that controls several oil ports said on Thursday it would not reopen the key Ras Lanuf and Es Sider terminals unless the government implemented its part of a recent deal to end the oil blockade.

Rebels under Ibrahim Jathran guard the entrance of Es Sider port in Ras Lanuf March 11, 2014. REUTERS/Esam Omran Al-Fetori

In a sign of further delays to restart vital oil exports from the volatile east, rebels said the Tripoli government had failed to fulfill its part of the accord reached this month.

Diplomats expect both sides to implement the deal eventually as the country badly needs the oil revenue but tactical maneuvers and mutual mistrust are likely to cause delays.

The row is part of chaos in the North African country where the government cannot control militias who helped oust Muammar Gaddafi in 2011 but have held on to their weapons to make political and financial demands by seizing oilfields or government ministries.

“The government hasn’t fulfilled a single item of the agreement to reopen the ports,” rebel spokesman Ali al-Hasi told Reuters.

Tripoli has not paid state salaries to the rebels - who are former oil guards - as agreed under the deal reached earlier this month to reopen four oil ports, he said.

The agreement also called for a commission to investigate corruption.

So far only the 110,000 barrels a day Hariga port in Tobruk has resumed work, while the Zueitina port is facing technical issues after the long blockage.

Both ports had meant to reopen immediately after the signing of the deal almost three weeks ago with the larger terminals Ras Lanuf and Es Sider restarting after more talks.

There was no immediate comment from the government but cabinet spokesman Ahmed Lamin said earlier the Ras Lanuf and Es Sider ports would be handed over within a month - a claim dismissed by the rebel spokesman unless the government fulfilled its part of the deal.

Lamin said Zueitina port cannot resume exports until outstanding technical issues are fixed.

Sources close to the talks say part of the problem is that some rebels at Zueitina terminal had demanded to be put on the government payroll, a strategy used before in post-Gaddafi Libya to put pressure on a weak central government.

Protests at oilfields and pipelines have also crippled oil production in the west of the OPEC producer, reducing output to around 220,000 bpd from 1.4 million bpd in summer.

Reporting by Ulf Laessing and Ahmed Elumami; Editing by Jane Baird and David Evans

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