Despite a lack of coverage in the international press, Libya is still embroiled in a serious political struggle with rebels that risks to escalate after the government in Tripoli threatened to bomb a North Korean-flagged tanker docked in the eastern port of Es Sider.
Militia rebels have played a key role in the ousting of Muammar el Gheddafi in 2011 and since then they have been defying Libya’s Prime Minister Ali Zeidan. During the eight months of battles against Gheddafi’s forces, the unruly fighters were able to pile up a considerable weapon arsenal that they are now using to threaten the authority of the central government.
According to a BBC report, the leader of the rebels, Ibrahim Jathran, demands that the government set up a commission to supervise oil revenues and share them with the rebels-controlled East. Abb-Rabbo Albarassi, a self-proclaimed Prime Minister of the eastern autonomy movement, lamented that Zeidan’s government refused to share oil revenues and to concede regional autonomy to the rebels and that the latters had therefore begun to take control of oil exports.
Last August, the militia rebels seized three major ports in Libya and are trying to sell oil to foreign tankers, bypassing the central government. The occupation of the ports dealt a severe blow to Libya’s finances, which is a OPEC country and mostly depends on oil wealth to fund its economy.
The North Korean-flagged tanker had been sailing off the coast of Libya for days and last Tuesday was ordered to turn back by port workers who are still loyal to the central government. However, the ship was able to dock at Es Sider on Saturday night and started to load oil. Few hours later, a local television, controlled by the rebels, aired a footage showing the fighters slaughtering a camel to celebrate what they called “their first oil shipment.”
Prime Minister Zeidan responded with a televised speech in which he accused the crew of the North Korean-flagged tanker to be committing a criminal act against Libya and threatened to bomb the ship if it tried to leave the port with a load of oil.
In recent weeks, the Libyan army failed to prevent the fighters from sending more men from their main base in Ajdabiyah to the port of Es Sider. According to some analysts, Libyan army is still under training and could not win a confrontation with the rebels.
Reuters and BBC quoted experts pointing out that it is very unusual to find a North Korean oil tanker operating in the Mediterranean. In fact, Libya’s state-run National Oil Corporation (NOC) claimed that the tanker changed ownership in the past few weeks and is now owned by a Saudi company. However, the Saudi embassy in Tripoli said it has nothing to do with the ship.
The mounting tensions between the government and the rebels over the illegal selling of oil to the North Korean-flagged tanker in Es Sider might result in an environmental disaster, as Libya’s Prime Minister Zeidan threatened to bomb the ship if the crew leaves the port with its cargo of oil.
By Stefano Salustri