Libyan rivals fight for oil as UN pursues peace

Libyan rivals fight for oil as UN pursues peace
Islamist Libya Dawn fighters clash with pro-government forces in oil-rich Sidra, threatening exports and complicating UN attempts to start peace negotiations.
3 min read
15 December, 2014
Sidra is the biggest oil export port in the country [Getty/AFP]

The Islamist Libya Dawn and its allies have continued to clash with pro-government forces in the eastern oil region of al-Hilal, as the UN attempted to bring both sides together to discuss peace.
An oil official told Reuters on Sunday that the al-Waha Oil Company stopped work in Sidra, Libya's largest oil exports port. Ras Lanuf port, east of Sidra, was however still working.

The AFP news agency reported that Tareq Shanina, an Islamist commander, said his fighters had come under air attack from pro-government forces near Sidra.

The ports are controlled by fighters loyal to the internationally recognised government of prime minister Abdullah al-Thani that sits in Tobruk after being kicked out of Tripoli by Libya Dawn. The Islamist movement has set up its own government in Tripoli, and named Omar al-Hassi as prime minister Nouri Abu Sahmain as president.  

The latest attacks come as the UN mission in Libya, known as UNSMIL, attempted to revive peace negotiations between the two sides after they were postponed last week.

Bernardino Leon, the UN envoy, said that the talks would include representatives from both governments, and aim "to reach agreement on the management of the remainder of the transitional period, until such time that a new permanent constitution is adopted".

   What's going on in Libya?

The General National Congress was the Islamist-led elected body ruling Libya for two years after Gaddafi was toppled. It missed an 18-month deadline to form a new constitution and so extended its mandate.

General Khalifa Haftar, a senior figure in the forces that toppled Gaddafi, called on the GNC to disband. In May, Haftar's troops attacked Islamists in Benghazi and the GNC in Tripoli.

Amid the chaos, an election was held to form the House of Representatives, which took over from the GNC in August. The turnout was just 18 percent. 

Islamist militias then launched Operation Libya Dawn to fight Haftar's troops and the new parliament
fled to Tobruk.

In late August, a group of GNC members set up a rival parliament in Tripoli. Libya's Supreme Court in Tripoli, ruled that the Tobruk parliament was unconstitutional.

Tobruk remains the internationally recognised government. It has
refused to accept the court's ruling, saying it was made at gunpoint.

Sir Richard Dalton, the former British ambassador to Libya, told al-Araby that there was little chance of anyone gaining total victory in the country, despite the continuing violence.

"It is too difficult to sustain a military campaign across the vast area" of Libya, he said, adding: "A military collapse of one side or the other is not likely to assist or shorten the peace process, partly because of foreign sponsors."

Egypt and the UAE are supporting pro-government forces, while Turkey and Qatar are reportedly assisting Libya Dawn.

There has also been heavy fighting in Abu Kamash, western Libya, between Libya Dawn and pro-government forces led by anti-Islamist former general Khalifa Haftar, who helped topple Gaddafi in 2011.

At least 17 Islamist fighters were killed in airstrikes by pro-government forces near the Ras Jedir border with Tunisia.

Libya Dawn member Sobhi Jumar said in a statement that the airstrikes also targeted a civilian area and a quarry in Abu Kamash.