Libya’s al-Sharara oilfield remains closed as an armed group remains there, the chairman of state oil firm National Oil Company (NOC) said on Sunday.
Mustafa Sanalla dismissed calls by the Libyan National Army, a militia led by warlord Khalifa Haftar, which had seized the country’s biggest oil field in early February.
“The field is closed because of the presence of a group of civilians, this armed militia, and some military people with them,” the NOC chairman said in a video posted online, Reuters reported.
Forces loyal to rogue general Haftar handed over control of the al-Sharara oilfield in eastern Libya to an oil security force on 19 February, in a bid to allow the NOC to restart production that has been halted for months.
The LNA seized the oil field two weeks earlier 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 December, demanding an end to their political marginalisation and shortages of electricity and fuel.
The LNA called on NOC to lift “force majeure” – a legal measure exempting it from responsibility for failure to deliver on contracts – after it handed over the field last week.
Sanalla said “the field is not yet safe” and that NOC’s conditions for such a move, including safety of its workers and a new security arrangement, had not been met.
Sanalla confirmed talks between NOC an the LNA force, saying the state oil firm was neutral and dealt with all parties in Libya’s conflict.
The North African country has been torn between rival administrations, myriad militias and jihadis since the overthrow and killing of dictator Muammar Gaddafi in 2011.
The Tripoli-based Government of National Accord (GNA) is recognised by the international community, but a parallel administration in eastern Libya is backed by the LNA.
The LNA launched an offensive in southern Libya. It already holds oil ports in eastern Libya and last week also seized the al-Fil oil field.