(Repeats story published on Monday)
* Eastern forces consolidate port control
* Haftar signals intent to allow oil exports
* Response from Misrata forces still uncertain
By Aidan Lewis and Ayman al-Warfalli
TUNIS/BENGHAZI, Libya, Sept 12 Libyan forces
loyal to eastern commander Khalifa Haftar said on Monday they
had tightened their control over four major oil ports, casting a
Western-backed project to unite Libya and revive oil exports
into deep uncertainty.
Haftar's forces met little resistance as they seized the
terminals at Ras Lanuf, Es Sider, Zueitina and Brega in an
operation launched on Sunday, displacing a rival armed faction
aligned with the U.N.-backed Government of National Accord (GNA)
The advance is the latest power struggle over the OPEC
nation's energy assets, after the 2011 fall of Muammar Gaddafi
and the chaos that followed left the North African country
splintered into competing rival armed factions.
Haftar opposes the Tripoli government and has resisted its
attempts to integrate his self-styled Libyan National Army (LNA)
into unified armed forces. His seizure of the ports risks a
response from powerful western brigades allied with the
government and a deepening of regional divisions.
But Tripoli may seek a deal with Haftar - similar to the
agreement it struck with the armed faction he has displaced - to
restart the oil exports it needs to stave off a financial crisis
that could paralyse government operations.
Conflict and political disputes have reduced Libya's oil
output and exports to a fraction of the level seen before an
uprising toppled late dictator Gaddafi five years ago.
In a statement signalling a willingness to get oil flowing,
Haftar's LNA said late on Sunday it would secure the ports to
"return operational responsibility to the National Oil
Corporation with a guarantee of non-interference by armed forces
in operational activities and exports".
Just a year ago, Libya had two rival governments, one in
Tripoli and one in the east, each backed by competing factions
of armed brigades and laying claims to the country's oil
A unity deal brokered by the United Nations, signed by rival
factions in December despite opposition from hardliners, was
meant to end the divide. As a result of the agreement, the GNA
arrived in Tripoli in March, backed by Western powers to
stabilise a country where lawlessness allowed Islamist militants
and migrant smugglers to operate across swathes of territory.
Since then, however, some political and tribal leaders in
the east have withheld their support, worried that the new
government is a vehicle for opponents in the west. The LNA has
strengthened its position, making military gains in and around
Benghazi against Islamist-led opponents before taking control of
Many people in Tripoli and western Libya criticise Haftar as
a new dictator in the making, but he has become a political
figurehead for many in the east who feel abandoned by the
In seizing the ports, the LNA displaced units of Libya's
Petrol Facilities Guard (PFG) led by Ibrahim Jathran, which
struck a deal with the GNA in July to end its three-year
blockade of the Ras Lanuf, Es Sider and Zueitina terminals.
The LNA took Ras Lanuf and Es Sider, Libya's biggest export
terminals, in a dawn operation on Sunday it dubbed "Swift
Lightning". Clashes broke out in Zueitina, but the LNA said
overnight that it had secured that port as well as confirming
its control of a fourth port, Brega.
Residents in Zueitina and Brega told Reuters that LNA forces
were in control on Monday.
A commander allied to the LNA said an attempted
counter-attack at Ras Lanuf by Jathran loyalists had been
blocked on Monday. Jathran had lost much local support after
switching allegiances to the GNA; there were few casualties
during the port seizures as many of his men appeared to have
responded to a call from eastern tribal leaders to hand over
Haftar's forces could face a renewed backlash from
Islamist-leaning groups in the east as result of the raids, but
they have suffered heavy losses in previous battles with the
His opponents in the western city of Misrata could prove the
Misratan forces are close to finishing a four-month campaign
to oust Islamic State from its former North African stronghold
But the campaign has been costly, and Misrata also has to
sustain a military presence in several other parts of the west,
including Tripoli, where it has provided support for the GNA.
If the LNA retains military control over the terminals,
eastern factions it is allied with could make a fresh attempt to
export oil independently from the National Oil Company (NOC) in
But previous efforts to do this through the NOC office in
Benghazi and funnel money to an eastern branch of Libya's
central bank have been blocked by international opposition.
Claudia Gazzini, a Libya expert at International Crisis
Group, said it was in Haftar's interests to have a working
relationship with the NOC.
"I think this is what he's aiming for - to be the one who
reopens the terminals," Gazzini said. "The unexpected outcome is
that the terminals could open earlier than expected if there's
no military counter attack."
Still, a deal between the LNA and the state oil body could
face stiff political opposition from Haftar's opponents in the
GNA's leadership, or Presidential Council, which late on Sunday
called the attacks an "unjustified escalation" that would
prolong conflict in Libya.
The Council consists of nine members who were selected on
the basis of Libya's political and geographical divisions and
are often divided among themselves.
The return to the Council of Ali Gatrani, a member
representing the east who had suspended his membership for
months, opens a potential channel to Haftar and his allies in
the east as the government seeks to win their backing.
In the past, however, eastern factions have said they will
not join the GNA without greater representation, guarantees over
the leadership of the military, and the relocation of the NOC to
Benghazi - demands they are likely to press with more confidence
"The view of the LNA is that, now they are taking control
and making advances, they will want to see an improvement in
their funding, they will want to see this reflected economically
and politically in their benefit," said Mohamed Eljarh, an
analyst with the Atlantic Council.
In such a scenario, he said, Misrata leaders could refuse to
deal with Haftar, adding: "There we could really see the
faultlines for the division of the country."
(Additional reporting by Ahmad Ghaddar in London; Editing by