Libyan Tribesmen to Hold Talks to Reopen Oil Ports

Source: Reuters 12/26/2013, Location: Africa

Tribal leaders will hold more talks on reopening several seized oil export ports in eastern Libya but the government will not negotiate with protesters blocking the ports, Prime Minister Ali Zeidan said.

A mix of tribesmen, militias and civil servants has seized oilfields and ports to press for political and financial demands, knocking Libya's oil exports down to 110,000 barrels a day from more than one million in July.

Last week, the government had expected a heavily armed autonomy group in eastern Libya to lift the blockage of three ports previously accounting for 600,000 bpd after tribal elders pressured it.

But autonomy leader Ibrahim Jathran declared at the last minute that talks with Tripoli to get a greater share of oil revenues for the east had failed.

Zeidan told reporters that elders from Jathran's and other tribes in the oil-rich east would hold talks to get the export terminals reopened.

"Delegations will go to the region on their initiative," he said. "They asked the government to give them a chance, which we've done, but after this we won't wait, God willing."

He did not say what measures the government might take if talks fail again after a previous deadline passed without any action.

In return for opening the ports, Jathran is demanding that corruption in the oil sector be investigated and oil revenues be shared. Zeidan has said the government had investigated corruption in the past and was willing to do so again.

Zeidan also repeated that the government would not recognize the autonomy group, which is campaigning for a system sharing power with the eastern Cyrenaica, the west and southern Fezzan regions.

Zeidan said the loss of oil revenue was posing challenges for the budget, with state income having fallen to 40 percent of what it used to be, without elaborating. But he noted the government had lowered spending and could use surpluses for a few months.

Jathran's and other militias in the east helped topple Muammar Gaddafi in a 2011 uprising but have kept their weapons, fuelling concerns about instability in the North African country.

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