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Eastern Libyan forces send warship to oil port, NOC condemns military use of oil assets

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TRIPOLI, Libya (Reuters) – Eastern Libyan military forces have sent a warship to the eastern oil port of Ras Lanuf, their spokesman said on Saturday, the first confirmed use of an oil facility since the start of their military operation to seize the capital Tripoli.

FILE PHOTO – An oil tank is seen inside Ras Lanuf port Oil and Gas Company in Ras Lanuf, Libya July 10, 2018. REUTERS/Esam Omran Al-Fetori/File Photo

State oil firm NOC said several Libyan warships had used the oil port, while military personnel had also entered the nearby Es Sider terminal, located in the east of the OPEC producer in trouble since the toppling of Muammar Gaddafi in 2011.

It did not say who was responsible for this but the two terminals, Libya’s biggest oil export ports, are controlled by the Libyan National Army (LNA) force of Khalifa Haftar, which started an offensive three week ago to take the capital held by the internationally recognised government.

LNA spokesman Ahmed Mismari told reporters his forces had sent the Alkarama patrol vessel to Ras Lanuf in Libya’s key Oil Crescent region as part of a “training mission” to visit the operations room and to secure oil facilities.

The LNA last year had received the patrol vessel, which was previously owned by a firm with a postal address in the United Arab Emirates (UAE), according to U.N. report monitoring violations of an arms embargo on Libya.

The UAE, along with Egypt, has in past years provided the LNA with military equipment such as helicopters, building even an air base, the report has said, helping Haftar turn into a major player in Libya.

The LNA controls Ras Lanuf and other eastern oil ports and the county’s oilfields but had technically left state firm NOC to run them as foreign buyers of oil only want to deal with NOC, which they have known for decades.

NOC is based in Tripoli and has sought to stay out of the conflict between the two governments, handling the oil and gas exports, Libya’s lifeline.

The export proceeds are given by NOC to the Tripoli central bank which mainly works with the Tripoli government but also pays some public servants in LNA-controlled eastern Libya.

Haftar is allied to a parallel administration which has set up its own state oil firm and repeatedly sought to take over oil exports from NOC Tripoli.

NOC condemned in a statement the use of its facilities for military purposes without mentioning the LNA or naming who was behind the acts.

“Incidents recorded by NOC include: The seizure of the Es Sider airstrip for military use, military personnel entering the port of Es Sider as well as attempts to requisition NOC tug boats, the berthing of warships in the Ras Lanuf terminal and its use by Libyan military vessels.”

“NOC strongly condemns the militarization of Libyan national energy infrastructure,” it added.

The NOC also said revenues rose to more than $1.5 billion in March, up 20 percent from the previous month, but that fighting posed a serious threat to production.

“The latest outbreak of hostilities … poses a serious threat to our operations, production and the national economy,” said NOC Chairman Mustafa Sanalla.

FILE PHOTO: Mustafa Sanalla, the chairman of state oil firm NOC, attends Benghazi International forum and Exhibition of Oil and Gas in Benghazi, Libya October 24, 2018. REUTERS/Esam Omran Al-Fetori/File Photo

The LNA, which is based in the eastern city of Benghazi, has failed to breach the southern government defences in Tripoli during three weeks of fighting. Heavy shelling could be heard late at night from southern districts, residents said.

Separately, the Tripoli-based interior ministry said it had seized an Iranian ship “carrying a mysterious shipment” in Misrata, a western city allied to Tripoli forces.

The ship was under U.S. and European sanctions, said the ministry in a statement.

Reporting by Ulf Laessing, Ayman al-Warfalli, Hesham Hajali and Ahmed Elumami; Writing by Ulf Laessing; Editing by Alexandra Hudson and Jonathan Oatis

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