* Guard official says exports continuing despite clashes
* Eastern forces carry out air strikes for fifth day
* Risk of escalation in Libya's long-running conflict
(Releads with oil official, adds vote in eastern parliament)
By Ayman al-Warfalli
BENGHAZI, Libya, March 7 An oil guard official
appointed by Libya's U.N.-backed government said on Tuesday that
he had been tasked with protecting oil ports by an armed faction
that took over Es Sider and Ras Lanuf terminals last week.
Idris Bukhamada, recently named by the Government of
National Accord as the head of the Petroleum Facilities Guard,
told local TV that export operations at the ports were
continuing and that the oil was for all Libyans.
He was speaking after east Libyan forces carried out air
strikes for a fifth day against the Benghazi Defence Brigades
(BDB), the faction that overran the ports. The eastern-based
Libyan National Army and the BDB have been battling for control
in Libya's eastern Oil Crescent since Friday, threatening output
from oil ports that the LNA seized in September.
A senior official from Libya's National Oil Corporation
(NOC) said on Monday that production had dipped by 35,000
barrels per day (bpd) due to the latest unrest, leaving national
production at just over 660,000 bpd.
OPEC member Libya was producing more than 1.6 million bpd
before a 2011 uprising led to political turmoil and conflict
that slashed output to a fraction of earlier levels.
"We have been tasked by the BDB to protect the oil ports,"
Bukhamada said, adding his oil guard belonged to the state and
had no military mission.
"I reassure all companies and NOC partners that export
operations are continuing and have not stopped," he told Libyan
TV channel Al Nabaa.
Since the BDB attacked on Friday, a front line has formed at
the centre of the Oil Crescent, between the ports of Ras Lanuf
and Brega. The Libyan National Army still controls Brega as well
as a fourth port, Zueitina, which lies to the northeast.
It says it is using air strikes to prepare the ground for a
Libyan National Army spokesman Ahmed al-Mismari said the
latest strikes had hit targets from the BDB at Ras Lanuf and at
Nawfiliya, 75 km (45 miles) to the west.
A resident and a military official in Ras Lanuf confirmed
the air strikes, but said there had been no change to the
positions of the rival factions on the ground.
A social media account used by the BDB said the group "is
protecting all its positions, and controls the area from
Nawfiliya to beyond Ras Lanuf".
The Libyan National Army ended long blockades at Zueitina,
Ras Lanuf and Es Sider when it took them over seven months ago,
leading to a sharp boost to oil production.
Es Sider and Ras Lanuf were badly damaged in previous rounds
of fighting and are still operating well below capacity.
The current battle threatens to enflame a long-running, low
intensity conflict between political and military factions based
in eastern and western Libya, which the U.N.-backed government
has failed to solve.
The BDB is partly made up of fighters who were ousted from
Benghazi by the Libyan National Army, whose commander Khalifa
Haftar has been waging a three-year military campaign in the
city against Islamists and other rivals.
On Tuesday 39 members of Libya's eastern parliament, which
is aligned with the LNA, voted to withdraw from a U.N.-backed
dialogue process following the BDB attack.
(Additional reporting by Ahmed Elumami in Tripoli and Aidan
Lewis in Tunis; Editing by Alison Williams)