Libya’s National Oil Corporation (NOC) has said Russian and other foreign mercenaries entered a giant oilfield in the country’s southwest, adding it completely rejects “attempts by foreign countries to prevent the resumption of oil production”.
On Friday, the NOC – which is based in the capital, Tripoli, the seat of the internationally-recognised Government of National Accord (GNA) – said the mercenaries entered Sharara oilfield in a convoy of vehicles and met representatives of the Petroleum Facilities Guard (PFG), a force established to maintain security at the oilfields.
Libya, a major oil producer, has been mired in chaos since the 2011 NATO-backed uprising that toppled and killed longtime ruler Muammar Gaddafi. For some six years now, it has been split between rival factions based in Tripoli and in the east, in a sometimes chaotic war that has drawn in outside powers and a flood of foreign arms and mercenaries.
Oilfields and export facilities are mostly located in the territory controlled by the eastern-based self-styled Libyan National Army (LNA), led by renegade military commander Khalifa Haftar.
An international agreement says that oil can only be exported by the NOC, with payments going to the Central Bank of Libya, also in Tripoli.
The LNA, which is supported by Russia, the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and Egypt, suddenly lost this month much of its territory around Tripoli and the northwest to the Turkey-backed GNA.
Oil exports were halted in January by eastern forces, cutting off Libya’s main source of revenue. After the GNA made gains this month, the NOC attempted to restart production at Sharara and El Feel Field.
In a statement, NOC chairman Mustafa Sanalla, said: “Some [countries] cynically express their public regret for Libya’s continued inability to produce oil while all the time working in the background to support blockading forces.”
The front lines in Libya have stabilised over the past two weeks west of Sirte, a central coastal city that is the closest to the main oil export terminals.
Separately on Friday, Russian President Vladimir Putin and his French counterpart, Emmanuel Macron, called for a ceasefire in Libya and a return to dialogue, the Kremlin said in a statement following a phone call between the two leaders.
It came a day after, France, Germany and Italy urged forces in Libya to cease fighting in order to get political talks back on track.