Rival force says it has seized third Libya oil port from unity govt

A rival force seized the Libyan oil port of Zuwaytina from guards loyal to the UN-backed unity government early on Monday in a new blow to its authority, a force spokesman said.
It comes after the same force, which backs a rival administration in east Libya, seized two other oil ports from guards loyal to the Tripoli-based Government of National Accord (GNA) on Sunday.
All three Mediterranean ports are in Libya’s “oil crescent”, which is seen as a vital source of income for the GNA, which is struggling to assert its authority over the politically divided country.
“Our armed forces were able to take control of Zuwaytina port and secure it completely,” force spokesman Mohammad al-Azumi 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 force is commanded by controversial General Khalifa Haftar, who has refused the back the unity government and supports the parallel authority, based in Tobruk in east Libya.
On Sunday it took the Al-Sidra and Ras Lanuf ports and attacked Zuwaytina to their 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 GNA late Sunday called on all forces loyal to it to “protect and defend” the ports against what it called “flagrant aggression” against Libyan sovereignty.
Libya has been in chaos since the 2011 uprising that toppled and killed longtime dictator Moamer Kadhafi, with rival authorities and militia fighting for control in the oil-rich country.
The port of Brega, between Ras Lanuf and Zuwaytina, remains in the hands of the oil installation guards.
A spokesman for Haftar’s forces, Colonel Mohammad Mesmari, told the press late Sunday that efforts were underway to seize the port without fighting.
Oil is Libya’s main natural resource with reserves estimated at 48 billion barrels, the largest in Africa.
But since 2010 the country’s production has plummeted from 1.5 million bpd to just 200,000 bpd.
Ras Lanuf and Al-Sidra together have a capacity of 700,000 barrels of oil per day but had been closed for months after jihadist attacks.
In late July, the oil installation guards announced the reopening of the two ports after an agreement with the unity government to resume oil exports.
They had been closed following attacks in January by the jihadist Islamic State group, who took advantage of turmoil after the 2011 revolt to gain a foothold in the country.
Libya’s oil sector is managed by the National Oil Company which is split into two rival branches, one allied to the GNA and the other to the authority in the east.