Published: September 09, 2019
Libya’s state oil firm is restricting kerosene supplies to areas controlled by eastern commander Khalifa Haftar in what diplomats and oil officials said was an attempt to prevent his troops using them in their five-month-old battle to take the capital.
The company said it took no side in the conflict and there was more than enough fuel in the east for civilian use.
The reduction in volumes sent east in August was a reversal by state oil firm NOC, which works with internationally-backed authorities based in Tripoli and has to co-operate with Haftar’s forces as they control major oilfields.
The NOC views itself as outside the almost decade-long struggle for control of the country. NOC data for the previous three months showed it increased supplies of kerosene to the east in response to demand.
“NOC stopped all additional fuel supplies until such time assurances can be met that fuel is being used for domestic and civilian aviation purposes and reflects real consumption,” the NOC said in a statement alongside the data, sent to Reuters in response to a request.
“Jet fuel stocks in the east are more than adequate to cover demand for civilian flights. NOC takes no side nor part in the conflict in Libya and it rejects any attempt to portray it as doing so,” it said in a later statement.
The NOC data showed kerosene supplies to airport warehouses in central and eastern areas which an NOC official said were controlled by the LNA fell to around 5.25 million litres in August.
The monthly figure rose to between 7.3 million litres and 8.8 million litres in the previous three months, more than double that recorded in January and February.
Two oil officials said on condition of anonymity NOC was concerned shipments were used by the LNA in the Tripoli war. Two diplomats said that was the reason for the reduction.
The figures do not distinguish between kerosene used for domestic heating and industrial purposes and jet fuel but the statement said demand for the latter went up.
“Jet fuel demand increased in the eastern part of the country despite the number of civilian flights remaining unchanged,” the NOC statement said.
Haftar’s Libya National Army (LNA) force has been unable to breach Tripoli’s southern defences since the campaign started in April with the conflict killing more than 100 civilians, displaced more than 120,000 and showing no sign of ending.
The August kerosene figure was above than the roughly 3.5 million litres the NOC sent to the east in January and February, showing the sensitivity of the issue for the civilian population and the limits of the Tripoli government’s power.
Despite United Nations backing for the authorities in the capital, they have not been able to extend their reach across Libya, where a patchwork of rival armed groups filled the power vacuum left by the overthrow of Muammar Gaddafi in 2011.
The eastern-based LNA has support from Egypt and the United Arab Emirates and some Western powers such as France see Haftar as a “counter-terrorism” force since he routed Islamists in the east.
In April US President Donald Trump called him and “recognised Field Marshal Haftar’s significant role in fighting terrorism and securing Libya’s oil resources and the two discussed a shared vision for Libya’s transition to a stable, democratic political system” the White House said.
It would be unrealistic for the NOC leadership to side with UN-backed Prime Minister Fayez al-Serraj and cut off the LNA completely, said Jalel Harchaoui, research fellow at the Clingendael Institute in The Hague.
“The international environment is less supportive of NOC chairman Mustafa Sanallah now than a year ago,” he said.
Several Libyan oil officials and Western diplomats said there were indications the east was setting up a new firm to import fuel, which would violate Libyan law, to supply troops near Tripoli, some 1 000 km from their Benghazi base.
The United Nations recent months stopped several attempts by the east to export oil via small firms based mainly in Dubai, which would have violated UN sanctions, they said.
“The creation of any new entity to export and import crude oil and petroleum products would violate Libyan and international law, under which NOC has the sole legal right to do so,” the NOC spokesman said.
Abdel-Salam al-Badri, a deputy prime minister in the eastern government, denied attempts to export or import fuel. The head of a parallel NOC already set up by eastern leaders, Mabrouk Sultan, did not respond to repeated messages and calls.
Haftar received military aid from Egypt and the UAE, according to UN reports, but is struggling to fund his parallel administration. Tripoli’s central bank only pays some of his public servants.
The LNA mainly uses drones but also planes from Gaddafi’s army and flies anything from ammunition to food and soldiers to air bases in Jufrah in central Libya and Brak in the south from where they continue by road, diplomats say. A base in Zintan in western Libya is controlled by pro-LNA forces.
Commercial flights operate out of the east as well, but diverting jet fuel would be politically difficult because they are vital for medical care and business.
Forces allied to Serraj also get fuel from NOC. The NOC did not immediately respond to a request for comment on whether it had restricted those supplies.
Serraj’s allies are less fuel dependent than the LNA due to shorter supply lines, and they scaled back air strikes after the LNA hit western airports. source