Libya orders special force to ‘liberate’ rebel-held ports

March 11, 2014 - 1:09:41 am
TRIPOLI: Libya’s parliament has ordered a special force to be sent within one week to “liberate” all rebel-held ports in the volatile east, officials said yesterday, raising the stakes over a blockage that has cut off vital oil revenue.

The conflict over oil wealth is increasing fears that Libya may slide deeper into chaos or even splinter as the fragile government fails to rein in dozens of militias that helped oust Muammar Gaddafi in 2011 but now defy state authority.

The rebels, who have seized three ports and partly control a fourth in the country, said they had dispatched forces to central Libya to deal with any government attack. With tension between the two sides escalating, government forces seized a tanker that had loaded crude worth $30m at the rebel-held Es Sider port.

The North Korea-flagged tanker was undamaged and being escorted to western Libya, culture minister and government spokesman Habib Al Amin said. 

A spokesman for the rebels earlier denied they had lost control of the ship. Even without any major military action, the escalation kills any hope of restoring oil exports soon. The head of parliament, who has quasi-presidential powers, ordered the formation of a force made up of regular soldiers and allied militias to take back the ports.

The operation will start within one week, parliament head Nuri Ali Abu Sahmain said in a decree published by spokesman Omar Hmeidan. “The force will be set up to liberate the ports and end the blockage,” Hmeidan said.

Prime Minister Ali Zeidan, who said on Saturday the tanker, Morning Glory, would be bombed if it tried to export oil, is now in a much stronger position with the parliament throwing its weight behind military action.

Libya has been trying to rebuild its army since Gaddafi’s overthrow, but analysts say it is not yet a match for battle-hardened militias that fought in the eight-month uprising that toppled him.

Still, the force will be drawn from cities such as Misurata that are home to fighters who saw battle in the civil war, according to the decree. Misurata forces were sent earlier this year to assist with clashes deep in Libya’s south.