TUNIS (Reuters) - A former Libyan rebel leader, who seized oil ports in the past to campaign for eastern autonomy, said he had turned down an offer to join an armed group challenging the internationally-recognized government.
The loyalty of Ibrahim Jathran to the government is key to ensure that three oil ports accounting for at least 500,000 barrels of days of exports in eastern Libya will stay open.
He had closed with thousands of supporters the ports in summer 2013 to press for regional autonomy, inflicting billions of dollars of losses for Libya until reaching a deal with the government to end the blockage in return for his men joining a state oil guard force.
Jathran said he had been offered a deal by an armed force called Operation Dawn which seized the capital Tripoli in August to challenge the government of Prime Minister Abdullah al-Thinni, which has moved to the east where also the elected parliament is now based.
The Operation Dawn reinstated Libya’s previous parliament which set up a parallel government, part of chaos gripping the North African country three years after the ousting of Muammar Gaddafi.
Dawn leaders had offered him a deal to hand over control of the oil ports to them in exchange for money and power, he told Libya’s Wataniya television station late on Friday.
“I prefer to stay in jail next to Abdullah al-Senussi rather than to have a deal with Operation of Dawn or share the power with them,” Jathran said, referring to Gaddafi’s former intelligence chief who is currently in jail.
There was no immediate comment from Operation Dawn, an armed group mainly coming from the western city of Misrata.
Libya’s oil output has risen to around 800,000 bpd in the past two months mainly thanks to the reopening of Ras es-Sider and two other ports in the east under a deal between Jathran and Thinni.
But the oil sector stays highly vulnerable to protests from armed youth or former rebels who helped oust Gaddafi and now use their guns to seize oilfields or ministries to press for financial and political demands.
Reporting by Ahmed Elumami; Writing by Ulf Laessing; Editing by Toby Chopra