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Op-Ed: Guards loyal to Libyan unity government control two oil ports

The Brigades (BDB) just last Friday captured the two ports from troops of the Libyan National Army(LNA) of eastern commander Field Marshal Khalifa Haftar. The Libya Herald suggests that the move was designed to head off any claim to the oil ports by attempted-coup leader Khalifa Ghwell and his National Salvation Government. He along with Grand Mufti Sheikh Ghariani are vocal public supporters of the BDB and its leader Mustafa Sharksi and opponents of Haftar.

Idris Bukhamada, who was appointed last month as the new commander of the PFG arrived in Ras Lanuf today March 7 and declared that the two port terminals were under the control of the PC and GNA. Bukhamada said that the PFG had no political affiliation and would have no role in any fighting. Bukhamada said: “Our mission is only to secure the work of the National Oil Corporation”. He said his men would protect the NOC and its local and international partners to ensure continued oil production and exports. Bukhamada was originally appointed PFG commander by Ali Zeidan in 2013. But he was ousted in 2014 as part of a deal with rebel PFG commander Ibrahim Jadhran who had seized the four Oil Crescent oil ports. Subsequently, last September, Haftar and the LNA were able to seize the four Oil Crescent ports from Jadhran with little effective resistance. Jadhran was strongly opposed to Haftar. Haftar allowed the National Oil Company to operate the ports and export oil resulting in most opposition to his attacks to suddenly almost cease. The Libya Herald claims that there are reliable reports that Bukhamada sent an infantry brigade to fight alongside the BDB. However, Faiez Serraj head of the PC claimed the GNA had nothing to do with the attacks.

Whatever the truth, the PC were anxious that their guards take over control from the BDB before Haftar had time to mount a counter-attack to attempt to retake the terminals. Haftar’s control of the ports has always been problematic. Although he allows the NOC to operate the terminals and export oil, his occupation of the ports gives him a great deal of leverage. Haftar does not support the PC or GNA government.

Mustafa Sharksi, head of the BDB, said that the group planned to continue on to drive Haftar out of Benghazi but he would first remain in the two ports to ensure they were secure. If Haftar tries to counter-attack right away he will face not only the PFG but also the fighters of the BDB. If he attacks the PFG he also will probably find that other militia loyal to the GNA join the fray.

The Libya Observer also covered the takeover of the two ports by the PFG. The BDB actually requested the PFG take over late Friday just after the BDB took control and LNA forces retreated. The BDB claimed they wanted to continue to advance towards Benghazi. A statement from the BDB said: “We don’t have any interest in controlling the oil ports, we only wanted to expel Haftar’s militias and his mercenaries from them and hand them over to the Petroleum Facilities Guard.” One positive reaction to the BDB offensive came from the Italian embassy that said it was a step in the right direction. A tweet said: “PC forces deployment in the Oil Crescent is a step in the right direction. No more fight. LPA is the only framework to solve #Libya crisis.” The LNA noted that Italy appeared to be getting involved according to a tweet: “#Libya: LNA spox Mismari tonight: We know #Italy’s Gen. Paolo Serra (UNSMIL military adviser) went with Barghathi today to Jufra (militants)”

The reaction of the House of Representatives was quite negative. The HoR government based in Tobruk is a rival to that of the UN-brokered Government of National Accord (GNA) based in Tobruk. As part of the Libya Political Agreement (LPA), the HoR is to vote confidence in the GNA at which time it would then become the legislature of that government. However, the HoR has twice rejected the GNA, the last time on August 22 last year. It has now voted to suspend involvement in the LPA Dialogue process meant to reach agreement on how to change the LPA so that the HoR would join the unity government. The HoR also rejected the nine members of the PC listed in Annex 1 of the LPA. 38 members apparently voted against the dialogue with just 56 members taking part in the debate. There are roughly 200 members of the HoR. The session was claimed to be quoratej because there had been 114 members present when it started. The insistence that an amended LPA be the basis for solving the political crisis now appears less and less to be the case. It will be interesting to hear what UN Special Envoy to Libya, Martin Kobler, suggests as the way forward now.

Ambassadors from France, the UK, and the US all strongly condemned the increase in violence in the Oil Crescent region and called for an immediate ceasefire. The three said there was an urgent need for a unified national military force under civilian command that could preserve security and promote the prosperity of all Libyans.

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