BENGHAZI, LIBYA – At least four oil storage tanks have been set ablaze during deadly fighting in Libya as the Islamic State group tries to seize export terminals, the National Oil Company said Wednesday.
The clashes, in which at least 10 security guards have died, began Monday as U.N. envoy Martin Kobler struggles to convince the oil-rich North African country’s rival parliaments to agree on a unity government deal brokered by the world body.
The fires broke out at key terminals in Al-Sidra and Ras Lanouf, located in the “oil crescent” along Libya’s northern coast, said a statement from the NOC management loyal to the internationally recognized government.
The NOC statement did not make clear whether the fires were still burning or if fighting was still underway for a third successive day in the Islamic State push to seize the terminals.
A senior executive with the Sirte Oil Co. told AFP that four tanks were still ablaze in Al-Sidra.
But Mohamad al-Manfi, an NOC spokesman, was quoted by the Libyan news agency close to the recognized regime as saying “calm has returned to the area after two days of fighting.
Ali al-Hassi, a spokesman for security guards in Al-Sidra, said: “We have lost 10 of our men since the beginning of the IS offensive on the terminals.
Mustafa Sanalla, chairman of the rival NOC management in militia-held Tripoli, condemned the attacks.
“I hope this appalling violence will lead political leaders on all sides in Libya to understand the magnitude of the threat we face,” he said in a statement.
“I encourage them urgently to put aside their differences. We need to unite against this common enemy, not tomorrow or next week, but now.”
Islamic State has been trying for several weeks to push east from its coastal stronghold of Sirte, and officials have warned of crippling consequences if the jihadis manage to seize control of Libya’s oil resources.
Sanalla urged the “swift formation of a national unity government and the establishment of a unified force structure capable of bringing peace to this country and protecting its natural resources.”
Kobler was equally insistent on the need for a political settlement.
“Every day that passes without a deal being endorsed is another day gained by IS,” he said in a statement late Tuesday.
Libya descended into chaos following the 2011 ouster and killing of longtime dictator Moammar Gadhafi. It has had rival administrations since August 2014, when an Islamist-backed militia alliance overran Tripoli, forcing the government to take refuge in the east.
The United Nations is pressing both sides to accept a power-sharing agreement it hopes will help to reverse Islamic State’s territorial gains.
Oil is Libya’s main natural resource, and the country sits on reserves estimated at 48 billion barrels, the largest in Africa.
It had a pre-revolt output capacity of about 1.6 million barrels per day (bpd), accounting for more than 95 percent of exports.
But unrest has forced a major slump in production, and output now stands at around 500,000 bpd.