Khalifa Haftar, the military strongman trying to seize political power in Libya, has halted oil shipments from ports under his control as he attempts to gain leverage ahead of peace talks in Berlin on Sunday.
At least 800,000 barrels a day of crude supplies worth roughly $55m per day, the economic lifeblood of the country, have been halted, according to the National Oil Corporation (NOC), the state-owned oil company. The country was pumping around 1.3m b/d previously.
The ports of Brega, Ras Lanuf, Hariga, Zueitina and Sidra have been ordered to shut down, the sources said, with militias and tribes loyal to Gen Haftar circling the ports.
NOC declared force majeure on oil exports from the five ports.
The state oil company said that LNA general command and the Petroleum Facilities Guard of the central and eastern regions had instructed the management of NOC subsidiaries — Sirte Oil Company, Harouge Oil Operations, Waha Oil Company, Zueitina Oil Company and Arab Gulf Oil Company — to halt exports from Brega, Ras Lanuf, Hariga, Zueitina, and Sidra ports.
The Berlin conference will bring together Gen Haftar and Fayez al-Sarraj, the head of the beleaguered UN-backed government in Tripoli, the Libyan capital.
It will also be attended by foreign heads of state backing the two warring sides in Libya. Gen Haftar has the support of the United Arab Emirates, Egypt, Russia and France. The Tripoli government is backed by Turkey and to a lesser extent Qatar and Italy.
Diplomats hope the Berlin conference will formalise a truce called by Ankara and Moscow that has been in place for a week and that the two sides will agree to the establishment of an international ceasefire monitoring committee ahead of talks leading to a political settlement.
Gen Haftar’s move adds to tension ahead of the talks and comes two days after Turkey’s president Raccep Tayyip Erdogan, who backs the government in Tripoli, said he would deploy troops to Libya.
“In order for the legitimate government in Libya to remain standing and for stability to be established, we are now sending our soldiers to this country,” Erdogan told an event in Ankara on Thursday.
Gen Haftar had refused to sign a ceasefire agreement in Moscow on Monday after saying he needed more time to study the ceasefire.
Mr Erdogan and Vladimir Putin, the Russian president, will be among the leaders present in Berlin.
“The main thing now is, if everything goes as planned, the sides in Libya don’t repeat their prior mistakes after the conference by putting additional conditions forward and accusing each other,” Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov told reporters on Friday.
“For now relations between them are very tense, they don’t even want to be in the same room together, never mind talking to or meeting each other.”
Libya’s NOC has tried to stay neutral in the conflict that has roiled the North African nation since the toppling of Muammer Gaddafi in 2011, arguing it is the one institution that is crucial to preventing the division of the country.
NOC chairman Mustafa Sanalla warned on Friday that oil exports “should not be used as a card for political bargaining,”
The NOC distributes oil and gas revenues through the central bank, in the form of salaries to civil servants and subsidies both to the UN-backed government in Tripoli and to a rival administration local to Gen Haftar population in the east.
Reuters reported that tribes in areas controlled by Haftar’s Libya National Army took over the eastern Zueitina oil port on Friday and said it would close all oil terminals under LNA control.
In 2011, the cutting off of the majority of Libya’s oil exports helped propel international crude prices to a post-financial crisis high above $120 a-barrel, but the market is now broadly viewed as much better supplied.
But the country’s proximity to Europe and the high quality of many of its crude grades still means threats to its production can have an outsized influence on crude markets.