Libyan Militias Attempt to Export Oil Abroad

By Esam Mohamed

TRIPOLI, Libya -- Militias in control of Libya's eastern ports are attempting to export oil on a North Korean-flagged tanker that docked at gunpoint Saturday.

The prime minister said his military leaders failed to carry out orders to stop the vessel, docked at al-Sidra.

It is not clear why the military leaders didn't stop the vessel from docking. Since the summer, the government has ordered that militias controlling oil terminals and ports be blocked from exporting crude. 

Prime Minister Ali Zidan simply said his government has been facing challenges from all sides.

"Everyone is working against the government," Zidan told a news conference. "The defense minister had asked the chief of staff to move [against the militia], asking them to deal with it, but nothing happened."

Leaders of a movement for self-rule in oil-rich eastern Libya control numerous ports and have halted Libya's exports for months. This has drastically affected the country's oil exports. The movement's militia have said they've formed a regional oil company and a shadow regional government.

Aside from autonomy, the group in the self-declared independent Barqa region is demanding a share of oil revenue.

The spokesman for the militia, Abd-Rabbo al-Barassi, said that his group would respond to any attempt to stop the shipment.

Mohammed al-Harari, the spokesman for Libya's national oil company, said Saturday that the vessel docked at al-Sidra could carry up to 350,000 barrels of oil. An oil company official, speaking on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to brief reporters, said armed gunmen forced workers loyal to the government to dock the ship.

In January, Libya's navy prevented a Malta-flagged oil tanker from entering ports controlled by the militia.

Zidan's government has been undermined by the proliferation of militias around the country, some of which are allying themselves with rival political factions. Islamist, Western-backed politicians and tribal leaders are locked in power struggles that have left post-civil war Libya fractured. Assassinations of public figures and security officials are frequent.

Most of the lawlessness is blamed on militias, which the government is struggling to control even as it continues to rely on many of them to impose order.

Zidan said his government has been in touch with the North Korean government. He said the tanker is believed to be owned by a gulf businessman, but he didn't elaborate.

Copyright 2014 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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