Libya rebels ‘agree to end oil port blockade’

Group seeking autonomy for eastern Libya agrees deal with government after three of its fighters released, reports say.

The ports previously counted for more than 600,000 barrels of daily oil exports [Reuters]

The leader of a rebel group in eastern Libya has agreed to end its seizure of several oil-exporting ports within days, raising hopes of ending an eight-month stalemate with the government in Tripoli, according to reports.

The group’s leader Ibrahim Jathran told a rebel television channel his group had reached a solution benefiting “all honourable Libyans” and the people of Cyrenaica, the east’s historic name.

“This agreement will upset all those who don’t want the good for Libya and its people but it will make happy all national thinking Libyans. That’s important for us. That’s what we strive for,” Jathran said.

Abb-Rabbo al-Barassi, self-declared prime minister of the rebel group, told the Reuters news agency: “The oil port issue will be solved within days. We agreed on all issues with the government in Tripoli.”

A government delegation is expected to visit the group’s home base of Ajdabiya in eastern Libya within two days to hammer out the details, al-Barassi said.

Talks with the eastern rebels had moved forward after the US Navy captured a tanker that had loaded oil at a rebel port, killing the hopes of rebel leaders to sell crude bypassing Tripoli and pressuring them to agree on a deal.

There was no immediate comment from the Tripoli government, which had earlier met a rebel demand by releasing three fighters who had boarded the tanker at al-Sidra, one of three ports seized by the group in August.

Rebels seized the ports, which previously counted for more than 600,000 barrels of daily oil exports, to press for autonomy, a greater share of the country’s oil wealth and the government in Tripoli to take a stronger stance on oil corruption.

Powerful militias

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The rebel militia had embarrassed the government by loading crude onto the Morning Glory.

Jathran, a rebel commander who fought against Muammar Gaddafi during the 2011 civil war, did not mention a previous demand to the government to return the oil tanker.

With no real army, Libyan authorities have struggled to control militias and armed tribesmen who kept their weapons after the civil war and now challenge state authority.

Rebels in the east of the country have been striving to reinstate the 1951 constitution, and revert to a federalist system sharing power between regions.

Libya’s government has been gripped with protests since July with oil production falling from 1.4 million barrels per day to 150,000 barrels per day triggering the worst budget crisis in decades.

Source: Reuters