CAIRO (AP) — The U.S. Embassy in Libya on Tuesday called for the immediate resumption of oil production in the country, pressuring eastern Libyan forces who have sought to choke off oil exports in territory under their control.
Powerful tribal groups loyal to Gen. Khalifa Hifter, whose forces control eastern Libya and much of the south, seized several large export terminals earlier this month along the eastern coast, as well as southern oil fields. The moves were meant to challenge the rival U.N.-supported government based in the capital, Tripoli.
The tribal groups also closed a major pipeline over the weekend.
The Libyan National Oil Corporation warned that the closure of eastern port terminals under Hifter’s control would cut crude oil production by 800,000 barrels a day and estimated the country would lose $55 million in daily revenues.
“We are deeply concerned that the suspension of National Oil Corporation (NOC) operations risks exacerbating the humanitarian emergency in Libya and inflicting further needless suffering on the Libyan people,” the U.S. Embassy tweeted.
The corporation's “operations should resume immediately,” it added.
Hifter's moves were seen as part of efforts to take control of Tripoli and punish his adversaries there for sealing security and maritime memoranda with Turkey, opening doors for unlimited military support from Ankara.
Oil, the lifeline of Libya’s economy, has long been a key factor in the civil war, as rival authorities jostle for control of oil fields and state revenue. Libya has the ninth largest known oil reserves in the world and the largest in Africa.
Hifter’s forces have been waging a military offensive to take the capital Tripoli since April. The campaign has threatened to plunge Libya into chaos, rivaling the 2011 conflict that ousted and killed long-time dictator Moammar Gadhafi.
Libya is now divided into rival administrations, each backed by different nations: the U.N.-supported government based in Tripoli, headed by Fayez Sarraj, and the one based in the country’s east, supported by Hifter’s forces.
France, Egypt, Russia, Jordan, the United Arab Emirates and other key Arab countries support Hifter and his allies in the east. The Tripoli-based government is backed by Qatar and Turkey.