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Libyan navy surrounds North Korean tanker

11 March 2014, 14:12

Tripoli - Libyan navy and pro-government rebel forces have surrounded a North Korea-flagged tanker that was loading crude oil at the rebel-controlled eastern terminal of Sidra, a navy spokesman said Monday.

Ayoub Belqassem told al-Tadamon news website that the tanker was besieged while trying to leave the dock.

The tanker docked in eastern Libya on Saturday as separatists announced they would start exporting oil.

Their announcement sparked a crisis with the central government in Tripoli over Libya's eastern oil ports, controlled since July by rebels.

The ship has only two choices: "either to surrender to the government's orders or be met with force according to the orders of the Defence Ministry," Belqassem said.

The ship was surrounded after the Libyan parliament on Monday ordered the army to retake control of eastern oil ports held by separatist rebels, who are demanding a bigger share of oil revenues.

Nuri Abu Sahmain, the president of Libya's parliament, ordered the army and loyal militias to form a military force to "liberate the oil ports and break the siege," parliament spokesperson Omar Humaidan told the official Libyan News Agency, LANA.

The independent Libya Herald newspaper reported on Sunday that government naval forces were in position outside the terminal, waiting to intercept the tanker.

Prime Minister Ali Zeidan has threatened that the tanker could be bombed if it tried to export crude sold by the federalist rebels, who demand that oil revenues be kept within the region.

The United States has warned against buying illegally exported Libyan oil, saying the federalists' bid "is counter to law and amounts to theft from the Libyan people".

Libya's oil exports, the mainstay of the North African country's economy, plummeted after rebels started blockading the eastern terminals in July.

The country's interim government has been struggling to impose order since the fall of longtime leader Muammar Gaddafi in 2011.

Government troops are outnumbered by various militia groups, who helped topple Gaddafi but have since defied the country's interim rulers.



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