BENGHAZI, Libya (Reuters) - Libya’s National Oil Corporation (NOC) called on Saturday for the “unconditional and immediate” withdrawal of militia loyal to Ibrahim Jathran from Ras Lanuf and Es Sider terminals, warning of further damage to key infrastructure.
Jathran headed an armed group that blockaded the terminals in Libya’s oil crescent for three years before being forced out by the rival Libyan National Army (LNA) led by Khalifa Haftar, the dominant figure in eastern Libya.
The NOC said storage tank 12 in Ras Lanuf had been “significantly damaged” in fighting on Thursday, when armed forces linked to Jathran stormed the two ports in an attack against the LNA, causing the ports to close.
The LNA took control of Es Sider, Ras Lanuf and other ports in the oil crescent in September 2016, reopening them and lifting oil production after the blockade that cost Libya tens of billions of dollars in lost oil exports.
The NOC declared force majeure in both ports announcing an initial production loss of 240,000 barrels per day (bpd), which it said was expected to rise to 400,000 bpd if the ports stayed shut.
“NOC calls for the unconditional and immediate withdrawal of the militia operating under Ibrahim Jathran to prevent an environmental disaster and further destruction of key infrastructure,” it said in a statement.
“Further damage to these sites could have a huge impact on the Libyan oil sector and the national economy.”
Since Thursday’s attack, the LNA has been sending reinforcements to the oil crescent ahead of a push to recapture the ports, and has launched air strikes against its rivals, military sources and residents said.
“For the past two days the sound of air strikes starts in the night and carries on until the early morning,” said one resident of Ras Lanuf.
The LNA’s rivals had not entered residential areas of Ras Lanuf but were stationed nearby, he said.
Both sides have suffered casualties since Thursday. The Red Crescent humanitarian group in the nearby city of Ajdabiya said 28 bodies from Ras Lanuf and Es Sider had been delivered to the hospital there, without giving details.
The Ras Lanuf resident said three anti-LNA fighters wounded by air strikes had been brought to a hospital in the town.
Jathran said on Thursday he was launching a campaign to recapture the ports in order to “overturn the injustice” that he said had been imposed on people in the area by the LNA over the past two years.
The LNA has accused the Benghazi Defense Brigades (BDB), a group of anti-Haftar combatants that has previously tried to take the oil crescent and advance on Benghazi, of participating in Thursday’s attack.
Benghazi has been fully controlled by Haftar since late last year.
Haftar and east Libyan factions aligned with him reject an internationally recognized government in the capital, Tripoli.
Writing by Aidan Lewis; Editing by Adrian Croft and Ros Russell