Forces loyal to Libya’s eastern strongman General Khalifa Haftar are advancing west toward the capital Tripoli in a renewed confrontation between the rival administrations that could escalate and threaten to disrupt, once again, Libya’s oil production and exports.
Haftar leads a self-styled Libyan National Army (LNA) with a base in the eastern city of Benghazi. LNA is the main opponent of the UN-backed Libyan government based in the capital Tripoli in the west.
On Thursday, forces loyal to Haftar clashed with rival forces south of Tripoli, LNA representatives told Reuters.
United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres, who is on a visit to Libya to bring rival leaders across the country together for a national reconciliation conference, tweeted: “I am deeply concerned by the military movement taking place in Libya and the risk of confrontation. There is no military solution. Only intra-Libyan dialogue can solve Libyan problems. I call for calm and restraint as I prepare to meet the Libyan leaders in the country.”
Oil-rich Libya, torn between a UN-backed government based in Tripoli and an alternative administration and institutions in the east, could see the years-long political crisis solved this month by the creation of a single government, Haftar said just a few days ago.
Since the toppling of Muammar Gaddafi in 2011, the division in Libya’s political landscape has resulted in frequent attacks on oil fields and infrastructure from various groups. For years, Libya has been struggling to keep its oil production above 1 million bpd, compared to 1.6 million bpd before the clashes began.
Forces loyal to Haftar control the four oil ports in the so-called Oil Crescent in the east and the major oil fields there.
The renewed confrontation between the rival forces risks disrupting Libyan crude supply at a time in which the oil market is tightening due to the OPEC and allies’ cuts, from which Libya is exempted because of the frequent clashes and attacks on oil infrastructure.