Libya's largest oil field shut down over pipeline closure

NOHA ELHENNAWY

CAIRO (AP) — Libya's national oil company has suspended operations at the country's largest oil field over the "unlawful" closure of a pipeline valve, in a country torn by war between rival authorities in the east and west, each backed by various militias.

The National Oil Corporation announced the move Saturday without saying who was behind the closure of the pipeline linking the Sharara oilfield to the port of Zawiya, on the Mediterranean coast.

"Deliberate attempts to sabotage pipelines and production hurt both national oil revenues and critical power supply for everyday Libyans," NOC chairman Mustafa Sanalla was quoted as saying in the statement.

He added that an investigation was underway to identify who blocked the pipeline late Friday and that the company's engineers were working on restoring production.

The Sharara oil field, which produces around 290,000 barrels a day worth $19 million, is controlled by forces loyal to Khalifa Hifter, whose self-styled Libyan National Army launched an offensive in April to capture the capital, Tripoli, from a weak U.N.-recognized government. However, Hifter's forces are not in full control of the route of the oilfield's pipeline, which runs partially through territories held by militias allied with the Tripoli government.

Libya slid into chaos after the 2011 uprising that toppled and killed Moammar Gadhafi. Hifter's LNA, which is allied with the eastern government, has made little progress in capturing Tripoli amid stiff resistance by militias loosely allied with the government there. The fighting has killed more than 1,000 people, mostly combatants, according to the World Health Organization. Rights groups also say Libyan militias on all sides of the conflict have committed human rights abuses, including abducting activists, journalists and human rights activists.

The niece of a female Libyan lawmaker who was abducted from her home last week said the family still does not know her whereabouts.

In a letter sent to The Associated Press, Nicole Sergiwa said the lawmaker's husband and nephew were being held incommunicado by armed guards at a hospital in the eastern city of Benghazi, after being injured during the kidnapping. She said guards loyal to Hifter were preventing the family from seeing or contacting them.

"They do not have their phones, we do not understand anything about their condition," Nicole Sergiwa said in a phone call Sunday from the United States, where she lives.

Seham Sergiwa disappeared Wednesday after gunmen stormed into her house in Benghazi, Hifter's stronghold, a fellow lawmaker told The Associated Press. The west-based government in Tripoli had said it held forces loyal to Hifter responsible for the kidnapping.

Sergiwa had expressed opposition to Hifter's military offensive against Tripoli on numerous occasions in the eastern-based parliament, which supports him. Before her abduction, she spoke to a pro-Hifter television channel as she was attending talks in Cairo aimed at resolving Libya's crisis. In a verbal duel with the host, she blamed "extremists" on both sides for the ongoing bloodshed.

The spokesman for the Benghazi-based government's Interior Ministry, Tarek El-Kharraz said that an investigation was underway to determine the lawmaker's whereabouts, dismissing allegations that her family members were detained and denying any involvement by forces loyal to Hifter in her disappearance.

The U.N. Support Mission in Libya voiced its concern over Sergiwa's disappearance and called on Libyan authorities to investigate the matter, warning against "unlawful arrest and abduction based on political views."