Libya’s UN-backed unity government lost control on Monday of a third oil port seized by rival forces, raising fears of a major outbreak of fresh violence in the chaos-ridden country.
The loss comes after fighters backing a rival administration in east Libya seized two other terminals from guards loyal to the Tripoli-based Government of National Accord (GNA) on Sunday.
All three Mediterranean ports are in Libya’s “oil crescent”, an area seen as a vital source of income for the GNA which has struggled to assert its authority across the country.
“Our armed forces were able to take control of Zuwaytina port and secure it completely,” a spokesman for the fighters who took the terminals said.
The LANA news agency loyal to the eastern administration reported a military source as saying: “The armed forces are now concentrated at the port and have secured it after expelling outlaw militia from it.”
The forces are commanded by controversial General Khalifa Haftar, who has refused to back the GNA and supports the parallel authority based in eastern Libya near the border with Egypt.
On Sunday, they took the Al-Sidra and Ras Lanuf ports before attacking Zuwaytina to the east.
It is the first time that Haftar’s forces and fighters loyal to the GNA have clashed directly since the unity government started working in the capital in March.
The UN special representative to Libya, Martin Kobler, urged Haftar’s forces “to immediately stop fighting and refrain from further military escalation”.
“I call for the respect of UN Security Council Resolution 2259 which recognises the Government of National Accord… as the sole executive authority in Libya,” he said in a statement.
Kobler said oil installations must remain under the authority of the presidential council and stressed that Resolution 2259 “contains a clear prohibition on illicit oil exports”.
Meanwhile the United States and its major European allies condemned the offensives.
“The governments of France, Germany, Italy, Spain, the United Kingdom and the United States condemn this weekend’s attacks on Zuwaytina, Ras Lanuf, Es Sider and Brega oil terminals in Libya,” they said, in a statement.