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Libyan state oil firm warns against export blockade

Friday’s warning comes after tribes close to renegade military commander Khalifa Haftar called for a blockade of coastal oil export terminals

Tripoli, Libya | AFP |  Libya’s National Oil Company warned Friday against threats to block oil exports, the war-torn country’s main income source, two days before a Berlin conference aimed at relaunching a peace process.

Tribes close to eastern Libya-based military strongman Khalifa Haftar had called for a blockade of coastal oil export terminals to protest a Turkish intervention against Haftar in the country’s grinding conflict.

The NOC later issued a statement saying it “strongly condemns calls to blockade oil ports ahead of the Berlin Conference on Sunday”.

Turkey has backed the Tripoli-based Government of National Accord as it faces an offensive by Haftar’s forces to seize the capital from what he calls “terrorists” supporting the GNA.

After months of combat, which has killed more than 2,000 people, a ceasefire came into effect Sunday backed by both Ankara and Moscow, which is accused of supporting Haftar.

However, after Turkey deployed troops to support the United Nations-recognised GNA, tribes close to Haftar threatened to close down the “oil crescent” — a string of export hubs along Libya’s northeastern coast under Haftar’s control since 2016.

His troops have also mobilised to block any counter-attack on the oil crescent, the conduit for the majority of Libya’s crude exports.

“The closure of the fields and the terminals is purely a popular decision. It is the people who decided this,” spokesman for pro-Haftar forces Ahmad al-Mismari told al-Hadath television late Friday.

The tribes also called for the “immediate” closure of the Mellitah, Brega and Misrata pipelines.

The head of the eastern Zouaya tribe told AFP that blocking exports would “dry up the sources of funding for terrorism via oil revenues”.

NOC chairman Moustafa Sanalla said the oil and gas sector is “vital” for the Libyan economy, as it is the “single source of income for the Libyan people”.

“The oil and the oil facilities belong to the Libyan people. They are not cards to be played to solve political matters,” he added.

“Shutting down oil exports and production will have far-reaching and predictable consequences.”

The oil-rich North African state has been in turmoil since a 2011 NATO-backed uprising that overthrew and killed dictator Moamer Kadhafi.

Its oil sector, which brings in almost all of the state’s revenues, has frequently been the target of attacks.

Sanalla said the consequences of exports and production being shut down for an extended period could be devastating.

“We face collapse of the exchange rate, a huge and unsustainable increase in the national deficit, the departure of foreign contractors, and the loss of future production, which may take years to restore,” he said.

“This is like setting fire to your own house.”

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