By Moutaz Mathi.
Tripoli, 13 September 2016:
The Libyan National Army (LNA) takeover of three of the eastern oil terminals has sharply divided the Presidency Council, with different members taking very different positions. Meanwhile, both General Khalifa Hafter and the President of the House of Representatives Ageela Saleh have called for oil exports to restart using the terminals.
In a statement to Buwabat Alwasat yesterday, Fathi Majbri, one of the five deputy PC presidents, attacked an earlier one published in the name of the PC on Sunday evening condemning the LNA takeover and calling on all Libyan armed groups supporting the PC to defend the terminals. It also alleged that the LNA had used foreign forces to take the Sidra, Ras Lanuf and, later on Sunday evening, Zueitina oil terminals.
The first statement, on a seemingly official PC Facebook page entitled “Communication and Media Administration, Council of Ministers” had been issued by Musa Koni who is acting as head of the Presidency Council this week while Faiez Serraj takes a short family break during Eid. The Facebook page is said to be maintained by a member of staff of fellow PC vice president Ahmed Maetig. A source at the Communication and Media Administration told the Libya Herald that the statement had been handed to them from Koni’s office and that they had to publish it because of his position as acting head of the council.
Accusing Koni of acting unilaterally, Majbri said that there had been no PC decision on the matter or on making a statement.
Several hours later, a less vociferous declaration said to have been approved by Serraj but which also condemned the attack, appeared on the official PC Facebook page.
It said that it was following events at the terminals “with concern”, that the attacks went against attempts to bring stability to Libya, that they were an unacceptable escalation of the conflict in Libya, and that they would prolong it. The protection of the oil terminals, it added, was the remit of the PC which was the only legitimate body in the country. However, the statement also called on both sides to calm down and avoid any action that could have “dire consequences”.
Meanwhile, adding to the divisions, two other PC members, Mohammed Ammari and Abdelsalam Kajman, have actively been supporting the Koni statement on social media and alledging the presence of Sudanese and Chadian forces in the terminal takeovers.
Both are viewed as pro-Islamist and are firmly anti-Hafter.
The Majbri statement, though, has served only to raise quesions about where he now stands. From the east, he was a firm supporter within the PC of Serraj but also a close ally of Ibrahim Jadhran whose Petroleum Facilities Guards (PFG) have now been trounced by the LNA. Like Jadhran he was strongly opposed to Hafter.
It is not clear if he is currently fighting his own private battle with Koni, or has changed sides. There have been reports, though, that he has recently become close to fellow eastener and former PC boycotter Ali Gatrani.
Meanwhile, following the takeover, Ageela Saleh said that the Libyan army had been officially authorised to retake the terminals from “occupiers” and that the move would not interfere with the work of the National Oil Corporation (NOC) or foreign oil companies. The reunited NOC would to take control and restart operations at the terminals, he stated.
In a separate statement, the LNA similarly promised that it would not interfere in oil operations and exports, likewise noting that it would return the terminals to the NOC – although it did not say which NOC, the administration in Benghazi or in Tripoli. It also called on oil sector employees to quickly return and start working again – in other words, to start pumping and selling oil again.
For its part, the NOC in Tripoli noted the takeover by what it called the military’s “general leadership” but nonetheless making clear that its prime concern remained avoiding damage to the facilities. The statement, presumably approved by Mustafa Sanalla, the head of the united NOC, added that there had been a fire at one of the tanks at Sidra. This, it said, was a tank that fed the Petroleum Facilities Guards generator.