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East Libyan Autonomy Group will not Reopen Oil Ports

Source: Reuters 12/15/2013, Location: Africa

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A movement pushing for greater autonomy in eastern Libya said it would not end the blockade of several oil-exporting ports, dashing hopes of a resolution to a three-month standoff with the Tripoli government.

The announcement was a blow to Prime Minister Ali Zeidan who had said he expected the blockage to end on Sunday after almost two weeks of negotiations with eastern tribal leaders to free up the vital trade.

Western powers worry Libya will slide into chaos as the Tripoli government struggles to rein in militias and tribesmen who helped topple Muammar Gaddafi in 2011 but kept their weapons and control parts of the OPEC-member country.

The port blockages, along with strikes by oil workers, civil servants, tribesmen and other protesters at oilfields across the desert country, have cut vital oil exports to 110,000 barrels per day from more than 1 million in July.

On Tuesday, the eastern autonomy group said it would release three ports - which had previously handled 600,000 barrels of oil exports a day - if Tripoli let it take a share of oil sales and investigated reports of corruption in the industry.

"We have failed to reach a deal on these conditions with this (Tripoli) government," autonomy leader Ibrahim Jathran told reporters at his group's home base in Ajdabiya, west of Benghazi.

"I therefore confirm that we will not reopen the ports for this corrupt government," he said in brief statement.

He said Zeidan's government had let down Libyans after the revolt that ended four decades of Gaddafi rule.

"We want a decent life, rights, security, an army, police and security forces which protect citizens," said Jathran, who was a rebel commander during the NATO-backed uprising.

Jathran used to head a force protecting oil installations until he defected with his heavily armed men in the summer and seized the Ras Lanuf, Es-Sider and Zueitina ports to boost his campaign for more regional autonomy and a greater share of oil sales.

The oil blockages have dried up the main source for the dollars needed to import wheat and other basic foodstuffs. The government has warned it will not be able to pay public sector workers if oil strikes continue.

Oil officials said on Sunday Libya was increasing fuel imports to ease shortages at petrol stations.

There was no immediate comment from Tripoli on Jathran's statement. Deputy Oil Minister Omar Shakmak declined to comment when asked by reporters at a news conference on fuel imports.

Officials have refused to recognise the self-declared eastern government and warned that Tripoli would attack any tanker trying to load oil at seized ports.

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