Libya to Halt Wages to Striking Oil Guards in Bid to End ProtestMariam Sami
Libya’s main security force at oil-related ports and facilities will stop paying striking guards to pressure them to halt disruptions that are crippling crude output in the nation with Africa’s largest reserves.
The government is reluctant to use force to quell the protests in eastern Libya on concern this may escalate the dispute and poison relations among tribes, Brigadier Idris Bukhamada, commander of the 21,000-member Petroleum Facilities Guard, said in an interview in the capital Tripoli. The country normally pumps more than half of its oil at eastern fields.
“We are a tribal society, and Al Jedran is from Al Magharba tribe,” he said yesterday, referring to a former PFG commander, Ibrahim Al Jedran, who with his brother Salem is leading striker demands for better pay and changes in guard-force leadership. “The state is worried that the whole of Al Magharba will retaliate if anyone is wounded,” he said. Al Jedran’s tribe inhabits the Mediterranean coast from Benghazi in the east to the central city of Es Sider, Bukhamada said.
Libya’s oil production dropped to 300,000 barrels a day last month, the lowest level since the 2011 civil war that toppled Muammar Qaddafi. The country produced about 1.6 million barrels daily prior to his ouster. Output rebounded last year before tumbling when the strikes broke out in July.
The country’s largest oil port, Es Sider, and smaller ones in the east at Ras Lanuf, Zuweitina and Hariga have been shut since the end of that month, depriving the government of $5 billion in revenue this year, according to Naji Mokhtar, head of the parliament’s energy committee.
Bukhamada, the PFG chief, ordered all members of the guard unit in central Libya to re-enlist and accept the national government’s authority or forfeit their salaries. About 2,000 of this unit’s 3,000 members have done so, he said.
Al Jedran supports Libya’s return to a federal system of government in which the eastern region of Barqa, also known as Cyrenaica, would rule itself, while two other regions, Tripolitania in the west and Fezzan in the south, would have a similar status, Bukhamada said. The three areas were unified in 1963 by former King Idris I, whom Qaddafi overthrew in 1969.
Al Jedran, who was fired from the PFG, couldn’t be reached for comment. Libya’s prosecutor general issued an arrest warrant for him for insubordination, a guard-force spokesman, Walid Hassan, said Aug. 22. In television broadcasts, he has denied any wrongdoing, accusing officials of trying to bribe him to end the protests and demanding that the government apologize.
Bukhamada said he plans to withhold payments from guards who continue to follow Al Jedran. The PFG is run by the defense ministry and funded by the oil ministry with a monthly budget of 30 million dinars ($24 million), he said.
Prime Minister Ali Zaidan said Sept. 17 that Libya needed additional foreign help to train its security forces and collect weapons and ammunition lost after the civil war. Italian ambassador Giuseppe Grimaldi offered yesterday to help the country “find solutions to difficulties facing the oil and gas industry,” at a meeting with Oil Minister Abdulbari al-Arusi in Tripoli, the state-run National Oil Corp. said on its website.
Bukhamada said Libya needs to improve the PFG’s equipment instead of hiring foreign companies to protect oil ports.