An oil guard official appointed by Libya’s UN-backed government said he was tasked to protect oil ports by an armed faction that took over the Es Sider and Ras Lanuf terminals last week.
Idris Bukhamada, recently named by the Government of National Accord as the head of the Petroleum Facilities Guard, told local TV export operations at the ports were continuing and the oil was for all Libyans.
He was speaking after east Libyan forces carried out air strikes for a fifth day against Benghazi Defence Brigades (BDB), the faction that overran the ports. The eastern-based Libyan National Army and BDB have been battling in Libya’s eastern Oil Crescent since Friday, threatening output from oil ports LNA seized in September.
A senior official from Libya’s National Oil Corporation (NOC) said production had dipped by 35,000 barrels per day (bpd) due to the latest unrest, leaving national production at just over 660,000 bpd.
OPEC member Libya was producing more than 1.6 million bpd before a 2011 uprising led to political turmoil and conflict slashing output to a fraction of earlier levels.
“We have been tasked by BDB to protect oil ports,” Bukhamada said, adding his oil guard belonged to the state and had no military mission.
“I reassure all companies and NOC partners export operations are continuing and have not stopped,” he told Libyan TV channel Al Nabaa.
Since the BDB attacked on Friday, a front line has formed at the centre of the Oil Crescent, between the ports of Ras Lanuf and Brega. The Libyan National Army still controls Brega as well as a fourth port, Zueitina, to the north-east.
It says it is using air strikes to prepare for a counter-attack.
Libyan National Army spokesman Ahmed al-Mismari said the latest strikes hit targets from the BDB at Ras Lanuf and at Nawfiliya, 75 km to the west.
A resident and a military official in Ras Lanuf confirmed the air strikes, but said there had been no change in positions of rival factions on the ground.
A social media account used by BDB said the group “is protecting all its positions and controls the area from Nawfiliya to beyond Ras Lanuf”.
The Libyan National Army ended long blockades at Zueitina, Ras Lanuf and Es Sider when it took over seven months ago, leading to a boost in oil production.
Es Sider and Ras Lanuf were badly damaged in previous fighting and are still operating below capacity.
The current battle threatens to inflame a long-running, low intensity conflict between political and military factions in eastern and western Libya, which the UN-backed government has failed to resolve.
The BDB is partly made up of fighters ousted from Benghazi by the Libyan National Army, whose commander Khalifa Haftar has been waging a three-year military campaign in the city against Islamists and other rivals.
On Tuesday 39 members of Libya’s eastern parliament, aligned with the LNA, voted to withdraw from a UN-backed dialogue process following the BDB attack.