Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Libya: gas exports to Italy halted after clashes

TRIPOLI, Libya (AP) — Transport of natural gas from Libya to Italy through a major pipeline in the country's west was halted Sunday after clashes between tribesmen and forces guarding the natural gas complex, a security official said.

The unrest was just the latest instance of tribal clashes disrupting efforts to bring Libya under control of the central government.

A company official said foreign staff of the Mettillah Oil and Gas complex near Zwara, about 110 kilometers (70 miles) from the capital Tripoli, were evacuated following the clashes which broke out Saturday.

The security official said the move to halt exports was a security measure, but no pipelines were affected. He said one of the company staff was injured during the clashes, which ended on Sunday.

Both officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak to reporters.

The complex is a joint venture between Libya's National Oil Corporation and Italy's largest energy company, Eni SpA.

A lawmaker from Zwara, Nouri Abu-Sahmein, blamed the guards at the complex.

Abu-Sahmein said the clashes broke out after guards refused to stop at a local checkpoint. Clashes erupted with the local ethnic Berber tribesmen early Saturday, killing a tribesman.

The guards are from Zintan, home of the rebels who were first to sweep into the capital, Tripoli, in August last year, dealing the decisive blow to the regime of former dictator Moammar Gadhafi.

The empowered militiamen took charge of guarding the natural gas complex, raising the anger and jealousy of local tribesmen. Turf wars between different tribes in post-Gadhafi Libya over control of strategic areas are common, as the central government struggles to impose order.

After the first clashes, three guards were arrested, prompting them to call in their supporters from Zintan, who surrounded the natural gas complex and fired at the local tribesmen, killing one, Abu-Sahmein said.

Many of the tribal conflicts are along ethnic lines between Arab and ethnic Berbers.

Abu-Sahmein said local tribes, including some Arab tribes, have called on the government to send the military to guard the complex to stave off disputes and protect the country's resources.

The Mettillah complex is one of Libya's largest oil and gas production facilities. Exports to Italy were halted during the civil war in 2011.