Forces loyal to rogue general Khalifa Haftar handed over control of the al-Sharara oilfield in eastern Libya to an oil security force, officials said on Tuesday, allowing Libya’s National Oil Company (NOC) to restart production that has been halted for months.
Khalifa Haftar, military strongman and leader of the Libyan National Army (LNA), seized the oil field two weeks ago without a fight, as part of a larger offensive launched in mid-January against jihadis and smuggling networks.
The field normally produces 315,000 barrels of crude per day – nearly a third of Libya’s overall output – but has been shut down since a group of state guards and tribesmen took control in December.
The North African country has been torn between rival administrations, myriad militias and jihadists since the overthrow and killing of dictator Muammar Gaddafi in 2011.
The Tripoli-based Government of National Accord is recognised by the international community, but a parallel administration in eastern Libya is backed by the LNA.
NOC said it will not reopen the field without a new security arrangement, including the replacement of local armed groups with GNA-aligned militia, according to Reuters.
The al-Sharara field is managed by Akakus, a joint venture between Libya’s National Oil Company, Spain’s Repsol, France’s Total, Austria’s OMV and Norway’s Statoil.
The December seizure prompted the NOC to declare “force majeure” – a legal measure exempting it from responsibility for failure to deliver on contracts.
The group of guards and tribesmen said they blocked the oil field to protest against marginalisation and shortages of electricity, fuel and mone.
Libya‘s economy relies heavily on oil, with production at 1.6 million barrels per day under former dictator Muammar Gaddafi.
Gaddafi’s 2011 removal saw production fall to about 20 percent of that level, before recovering to more than one million barrels per day by the end of 2017.
Libya’s vital oil installations have frequently been targets of protests and attacks by groups with a variety of demands.