BERLIN (Reuters) – The United Nations envoy to Libya said on Saturday he hoped but “could not predict” whether eastern oil ports shut ahead of a pending Berlin summit aimed at reaching a truce in Libya would be reopened soon.
FILE PHOTO: The U.N. Envoy for Libya, Ghassan Salame, speaks during a news conference in Tripoli, Libya April 6, 2019. REUTERS/Hani Amara/File Photo
Ghassan Salame said the Berlin summit scheduled for Sunday would likely discuss the closures to avoid them dragging on for weeks or months like previous seizures of facilities.
“If the thing is not solved between today and tomorrow I expect the issue to be raised, yes,” Salame told Reuters in Berlin, where Germany and the UN are expected to push for an extended truce.
Oil export terminals across eastern and central Libya were shut on Friday by tribesmen allied to commander Khalifa Haftar, whose Libya National Army (LNA) based in the east has been locked in a nine-month war with government forces over control of the capital, Tripoli.
Diplomats see the closures as a power play by the LNA aimed at choking off oil revenue to the internationally recognized Tripoli government.
The National Oil Corp (NOC) on Saturday declared force majeure on oil exports from the eastern ports of Brega, Ras Lanuf, Hariga, Zueitina and Es Sider, saying the closures would result in the loss of 800,000 barrels (bpd) day in oil output.
Production in Libya, which was plunged into chaos with the toppling of longtime leader Muammar Gaddafi in 2011, was estimated at 1.3 million bpd last week.
Salame said he hoped Haftar would be willing to consider extending a truce which has largely held for a week despite the two sides failing to sign a deal at talks in Moscow mediated by Russia and Turkey on Monday.
Haftar is expected to attend the summit opposite Tripoli-based Prime Minister Fayez al-Serraj.
The war over Tripoli is backed by foreign powers with the LNA supported by the United Arab Emirates, Egypt and most recently Russian mercenaries, and Turkey sending troops and fighters from Syria’s civil war to help al-Serraj.
“I can confirm the arrival of fighters from Syria,” Salame said, putting estimates at 1,000 to 2,000.
There have been a series of failed conferences and negotiations to stabilize Libya.
Salame said he had started the process of a new intra-Libyan dialogue between the rival parliaments in Tripoli and the east, an approach that has failed since 2017.
“What is different now is that we have war…in 2017 there was no pressure, but now you have thousands of people who have been killed,” he said.
Reporting by Ulf Laessing and Nadeen Ebrahim in Berlin; writing by Nadine Awadalla and Ulf Laessing; editing by Angus MacSwan and Jason Neely