Libya rebels hail progress in talks
04 April 2014, 15:19
Benghazi - Rebels demanding autonomy for eastern Libya said on Thursday they had made progress in talks with the central government on reopening key oil ports that they closed to exports last July.
A rebel spokesperson said a first port might reopen as early as next week, raising hopes of an end to the nine-month blockade which has slashed Libyan oil exports from 1.5 million barrels a day to just 250 000 in a massive blow to the economy.
Wednesday's meeting in the rebel-held port of Brega came two weeks after US Navy SEALs seized a tanker loaded with rebel oil in international waters in the Mediterranean, effectively ending their hopes of exporting crude in defiance of the central government.
The Tripoli authorities on Monday released three rebels who had been detained on the tanker in a bid to advance the negotiations.
"We met yesterday [Wednesday] with a government delegation headed by interim finance minister Marajaa Ghaith and we reached agreement on several points," said rebel spokesperson Ali al-Hassi.
"The government gave a positive reception to the issues that we raised," he said, adding that the first of the five main export terminals held by the rebels could be reopened early next week.
Ghaith, who is spokesman for the rebels' self-declared autonomous regional government, gave no details on the agreement under discussion.
Tripoli officials have raised hopes of a deal several times in the past, only for these to be dashed.
But a source close to the latest negotiations said they were "serious" and that, if they bore fruit, it was proposed that the Zueitina export terminal be the first to reopen.
The release of the three rebels accused of forcing the captain and crew to load oil from the rebel-held port of Al-Sidra last month stirred protests from lawyers and magistrates, who demonstrated outside the prosecutor general's office on Tuesday against alleged political interference in the case.
Members of the prosecutor's office said the releases came under pressure from authorities, who have been working hard to find a compromise to allow for a reopening of the rebel-held terminals.
The weak Tripoli government's failure to stop the Morning Glory plunged Libya into one of its biggest crises since Moamer Kadhafi was toppled by a Nato-backed uprising in 2011.
The ship's escape after authorities had repeatedly vowed to take all measures to stop it underscored the weakness of the central government, which has struggled to rein in heavily armed former rebels.
The then prime minister Ali Zeidan fled to Germany as he was forced from office by a vote of no confidence in parliament.
The Tripoli authorities had threatened to launch an armed assault on the rebel-held oil ports using loyalist militias to supplement the weak regular army.
But a two-week ultimatum issued on 12 March has been quietly dropped in favour of the search for a compromise.