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US warns Libyan rebels about 'illegal' oil exports

April 12, 2014 at 10:06 am

Washington has warned Libyan rebels about attempting to export oil without the consent of the central government. It said that buyers of such “illegal” oil could face prosecution and sanctions. Libyan officials insist that they will prevent such exports and that warships have been moved into Libya’s territorial waters to undermine any attempts to use oil tankers to get the oil out of the country.

The rebels were guarding Al-Sidra Seaport, used for exporting oil, when they defected and announced their authority over the port and its facilities. A North Korean ship, the Morning Glory, has been loading oil since Saturday and, according to rebels, they want to sell it. They have not yet revealed the ship’s intended destination. The rebels ignored warnings by the Libyan prime minister that troops loyal to the government will attack the tanker. The ship can carry up to 350,000 barrels of crude oil.

Washington accused the rebels of stealing Libyan oil and said it is “deeply concerned” about the loading of “illicitly obtained” crude. “This action is counter to law and amounts to theft from the Libyan people,” State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said in a statement. “The oil belongs to the Libyan National Oil Company and its joint venture partners.” She noted that the US is one of those partners and tried to warn off possible buyers. “Any oil sales without authorisation from these parties places purchasers at risk of exposure to civil liability, penalties and other possible sanctions in multiple jurisdictions.”

Libya’s Prime Minister, Ali Zeidan, said that the authorities had told the vessel’s captain to leave Libya’s waters, but added that armed gunmen on board were preventing him from setting sail.

Rebels in Cyrenaica in the east of Libya called for federal self-rule last August and formed a council to govern the area. “We are not defying the government…but we are insisting on our rights,” the head of Cyrenaica council Rabbo al-Barassi said.

The situation has become more complicated as the defectors have insisted on the right to export oil, which is a key source of revenue for Libya. After the blockade of the port, production plunged to about 250,000 barrels per day compared with 1.5 million barrels during the pre-revolution era.