Armed group blocks key Libya oil field for a week

Tripoli (AFP) –


One of Libya's largest oil fields has been out of production for more than a week, the state-owned National Oil Corporation said Tuesday, blaming a militia for the shutdown.

The NOC said early last week that an armed group had seized the Sharara site, prompting it to declare "force majeure" -- a legal measure exempting it from responsibility for failure to deliver on contracts.

A video posted online showed southern Libyans saying they were blocking the field to protest against marginalisation and shortages of electricity, fuel and money.

The group said Monday it would not allow production to resume until Libya's unity government met its demands.

"The closure of Sharara will be maintained until the GNA (Libya's UN-backed Government of National Accord) meets the demands of the inhabitants of the marginalised south of Libya, which is severely deprived of services," said Mohamad Emeguel, who said he was a spokesman for the protesters.

"We call on the GNA to guarantee the supply of fuel (to petrol stations) and cash to banks, to pay more attention to the dilapidated medical sector, to reopen airports and to help disaster-stricken cities" in the south, he told AFP by telephone.

Libya was plunged into chaos following the NATO-backed uprising that toppled and killed longtime dictator Moamer Kadhafi.

Two competing governments and a myriad of armed factions including the Islamic State group have since fought for influence, decimating the North African country's economy.

Violence and the ongoing economic crisis have made it impossible for many Libyans to access basic services, especially in the desert south.

Libya's vital oil installations have frequently been targets of protests and attacks by groups with a variety of demands.

Standoffs over control of Libya's oil sites are often resolved by negotiations between the authorities and tribal groups, but the Sharara situation appears more complex.

The site, operated by a consortium of the NOC and four European energy firms, had been producing some 315,000 barrels per day, almost a third of Libya's current output.

The NOC said the force occupying the site belonged to the Petroleum Facilities Guard and ruled out negotiations, demanding the gunmen leave "immediately and without conditions".

But the unity government's military chief Major-General Abdulrahman Al-Tawil said on Monday that the guard had not been paid since 2014.

"They just want their rights," he told Libya al-Ahrar television.