Officials from the United Arab Emirates have been involved in secret talks with renegade Libyan General Khalifa Haftar to facilitate the export of oil outside of UN-approved channels, an investigation by the Wall Street Journal has revealed.
Haftar's forces moved to take control of several ports in the country's oil crescent last month, cutting off exports of some 850,000 barrels a day. This pushed the price up to $80 a barrel to be exported through a breakaway company, which the UAE is alleged to have supported.
The move caused widespread concern internationally, with the US, Britain, France, Germany and Spain vowing to take action against any effort to sell Libyan oil from any outlet other than the National Oil Corporation of the UN-backed government in Tripoli.
Whilst the UAE publicly supports UN resolutions, its backing of Haftar has been attributed to the desire to bolster the Libyan commander as an alternative to the Islamist forces in the region, which are thought to be backed by Qatar and Turkey. Forces loyal to Haftar battled with east Libya warlord Ibrahim Jadhran for control of the ports last month; they handle more than 80 per cent of the country's oil exports.
UAE government officials have attempted unsuccessfully to facilitate independent oil sales through Emirati companies for the past two years, Libyan, Emirati and European officials have said, but support from the Emirates has emboldened Haftar to attempt to cut out the National Oil Corporation. However, after international pressure, Haftar relented last week and handed over the management of the ports to the Corporation, which subsequently resumed export operations.
The move came after US President Donald Trump allegedly sent a strongly-worded letter to Libyan officials, criticising the Speaker of the House of Representatives, Aqailah Saleh, and the Chairman of the Presidential Council, Fayez Sarraj, for being unable to solve the crisis. In the letter, Trump reportedly warned both Libyan officials that they could face international prosecution as a first step, to be followed by threats of force if the issue was not resolved.
The UAE is known to have provided direct political and financial backing to General Haftar on multiple occasions since 2014. Leaked emails from UAE Ambassador to the US Yousef Al-Otaiba and seen by MEMO have indicated that his country has purchased weapons from North Korea and delivered them to Haftar's forces, violating the UN sanctions in operation on both countries. The UAE is also believed to be establishing an airbase in the east of the country, according to a UN team of experts.
A report last month also suggested that the UAE is funding candidates in Libya's election who support Haftar. The country is preparing for the election later this year under the auspices of the UN. Emirati officials have reportedly held many meetings in Egypt, Tunisia and Oman to assess the possible candidates based on their opinion of the military commander.
After Libya was divided in 2014, Haftar emerged gradually as the dominant figure in the east aligned with a regional parliament and government, and in opposition to the internationally-recognised government in the capital, Tripoli.
The UN and human rights groups have repeatedly accused forces loyal to Haftar of carrying out mass executions in Libya. A UN report has also detailed how he has been providing military support for Sudanese rebel groups since his armed forces took control of Al-Jufra and Brak Al-Shati in Libya.