Libyan forces loyal to eastern-based military commander Khalifa Haftar have entered Zueitina and established a presence about 10 kilometers (6 miles) from the city’s oil terminal.
Photos on local media websites showed a small number of Haftar’s Libyan National Army troops arriving to cheers. The port is under force majeure and is controlled by the Petroleum Forces Guards linked to the United Nations-backed unity government, or GNA, in Tripoli.
Haftar spokesman Ahmed Mismari said in a news conference on Aug. 11 that his force wasn’t planning to capture the port and only wanted to protect Libya’s wealth. He couldn’t be reached on Monday to explain why LNA troops had moved from positions they held over the weekend, something Mismari had earlier ruled out.
Nearly nine months after the unity government was formed in Tunis and four months since Prime Minister Fayez al Serraj arrived in Tripoli, Libya remains divided. In June, UN envoy Martin Kobler told the Security Council that a buildup of armed forces in the so-called oil crescent raised the possibility of conflict between groups that had gathered there to confront Islamic State.
Six Western countries -- Germany, Spain, the U.S., France, Italy and the U.K. -- on Aug. 8 called for all parties to avoid any damage to oil infrastructure at Zueitina.
Libya’s oil output has dropped 85 percent as factions fought for control of natural resources during the five years since the ouster of Muammar Qaddafi. As a result foreign-currency reserves have plunged, deficits widened and now worsening living conditions are causing unrest.
Zeid Ragas, an independent analyst based in Benghazi, said any attempt by Haftar to take Zueitina port would be self-destructive.
“The move was made by Haftar to widen his control on the ground and overcome achievements made by the GNA across the country," he said. “But with warnings by the international community and tribes in the area, any action is going to be suicidal."