Libya Autonomy Group to Sell Oil from Seized Ports

TEHRAN (Tasnim) - Armed groups demanding autonomy for eastern Libya invited foreign companies to buy oil from ports they have seized in defiance of the central government in Tripoli.

Libya Autonomy Group to Sell Oil from Seized Ports

In an announcement, they also pledged to protect tankers loading crude, after the Libyan defense ministry said it would destroy vessels using ports in the east, which are under control of the protesters linked to a self-proclaimed regional government.

The development adds to an air of chaos as the weak Tripoli government struggles to rein in the armed groups that helped oust Muammar Gaddafi in 2011 but which kept their guns and are now demanding political power and a bigger share of the country's oil wealth.

The conflict is hurting oil revenues, which fund the OPEC nation's government and the import of wheat and other staple foods. The government has warned it will be unable to pay public salaries if the standoff continues.

On Monday, the Libyan navy said it fired warning shots at a tanker trying to load oil at the eastern port of Es-Sider, which was seized with two other terminals by the autonomy group in August. The three harbors accounted previously for 600,000 barrels a day.

But the group, led by tribal leader and 2011 civil war hero Ibrahim Jathran, shrugged off Tripoli's warning by inviting foreign companies to buy eastern oil, Reuters reported.

"We welcome global oil companies ... The oil security guards will guarantee the safety of tankers," said Abd-Rabbo al-Barassi, prime minister of Jathran's self-declared government in the eastern Cyrenaica region.

Workers at the seized ports had returned to work, he said. A newly founded oil company called Libya Oil and Gas Corp would be dealing with potential buyers. A new army and coast guard, made up of Jathran's battle-hardened fighters, would secure the ports.

Barassi said his group had nothing to do with the tanker shot at by a Libyan navy vessel on Sunday on its way to Es-Sider. Tripoli has said the tanker was intending to load oil at the seized port, but Barassi said this was a "lie."

The confrontation has raised worries that Libya, also struggling with Islamist militias and armed tribesmen, might break apart as Cyrenaica and the southern Fezzan region demand political autonomy.

But Barassi said in a television broadcast that his group had no plans to secede.

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