Rebels in eastern Libya blocked an army advance toward oil-export terminals they control even as the government recovered a tanker the federalists loaded two weeks ago in a failed attempt to export crude.
Army units withdrew yesterday from barracks near the city of Ajdabiya, headquarters for the rebels’ self-declared Executive Office for Barqa, or Cyrenaica, after the two sides agreed to a truce brokered by tribal mediators, the official news agency Lana said.
Rebels attacked the Ali Hasan Al Jaber and Jazeera Martyrs battalions when these army units deployed there two day ago, the Libya Herald newspaper reported. A civilian woman was killed and 16 fighters were injured in the clashes, according to broadcaster TV Al Nabaa.
The government on March 12 gave rebel leaders a two-week deadline to surrender four oil ports under their control. It issued the warning after the militia loaded the Morning Glory tanker with crude in Es Sider, the North African nation’s largest oil-export terminal. The ship broke through a Libyan naval blockade and sailed into international waters, prompting parliament to oust the former prime minister, Ali Zaidan, in a no-confidence vote.
U.S. Navy commandos seized the Morning Glory off Cyprus on March 17 and transferred the ship yesterday, along with its 21 crew members and three rebels who were on board, to the Libyan navy, Ayub Kassem, a navy spokesman, said at a news conference in the capital Tripoli.
The tanker arrived near Tripoli’s naval base, and those on board were handed over to judiciary police, Kassem said. The ship should sail afterward to the government-run port of Zawiya to unload its cargo into storage tanks, he said.
“We learned a lesson, and no other vessel will be able to get near the ports” that rebels control, Kassem said.
Libya has nine oil ports and holds Africa’s largest crude reserves. Its central government has been hindered by a lack of oil revenue since the 2011 overthrow of Muammar Qaddafi.
The country’s crude production slumped to 350,000 barrels a day last month from an average of 1.59 million barrels a day in 2010. The political deadlock in Libya, a member of the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries, has global implications, with Citigroup Inc. citing it as one of the reasons it raised its 2014 forecast for Brent crude to $103 a barrel from $93 last month.