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East Libyan Rebels to End Oil Port Blockage within Days

Source: Reuters 4/1/2014, Location: Africa

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A rebel group in eastern Libya has agreed with the government to end its seizure of vital oil ports within days, a senior leader told Reuters, raising hopes for an end to an eight-month stalemate that has dried up state income and fuelled chaos.

There was no immediate comment from the Tripoli government which has been trying since summer to end the blockage of three eastern ports, which previously accounted for more than 600,000 barrels a day of oil exports.

The oil conflict is just one aspect of the turmoil in the OPEC producer where the weak central government is unable to control militias that helped topple Muammar Gaddafi in 2011 but refuse to disarm and are trying to grab a share of power or oil wealth.

Still, markets are likely to remain skeptical about whether the oil ports will finally reopen after a similar deal fell through in December at the last minute.

Talks with the eastern rebels had moved forward after the U.S. Navy captured a tanker that had loaded oil at a rebel port, killing the hopes of rebel leaders to sell crude bypassing Tripoli and pressuring them to agree on a deal.

The government had earlier met a rebel demand by releasing three of its fighters who had boarded the tanker at Es Sider, one of three ports seized by the group in August to press for autonomy and a greater share of oil wealth.

"The oil port issue will be solved within days," Abb-Rabbo al-Barassi, self-declared prime minister of the rebel group, said. "We agreed on all issues with the government in Tripoli."

A government delegation would visit the group's home base Ajdabiya in eastern Libya within two days to hammer out the details, he told Reuters by phone. He gave no details.

The group's top leader Ibrahim Jathran had minutes earlier told a rebel television station his group had reached a solution benefiting the people of Cyrenaica, the east's historic name, and "all honorable Libyans".

"This agreement will upset all those who don't want the good for Libya and its people but it will make happy all national thinking Libyans. That's important for us. That's what we strive for," Jathran said in a speech lasting eight minutes.

He gave no details or date but swapped his often martial tone for a more conciliatory one, addressing "all Libyans" and stressing the need for consensus and stability.

Jathran repeated the rebel demands for giving the east a share of oil and combating oil corruption but also talked about reaching out to all regions and cities to build a stable Libya.

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