(Bloomberg) — Fighters loyal to eastern Libyan military commander Khalifa Haftar shelled the port in the capital, forcing a halt to shipping and providing an ominous backdrop for the resumption of United Nations-brokered talks on the country’s conflict.
The bombardment of Tripoli port on Tuesday forced authorities to evacuate tankers carrying gasoline and liquefied petroleum gas before they had unloaded, according to an official from the state-run National Oil Corp.
The port has also been used to ship in weapons for the Tripoli-based internationally recognized government, and Haftar’s self-styled Libyan National Army initially said it had targeted and destroyed a Turkish vessel, before stating it had hit a weapons depot. The LNA began its offensive to take the capital in April.
It wasn’t possible to independently verify the claim. Black smoke billowed from the port area.
In Geneva, UN-sponsored talks got under way between officials representing Haftar and Prime Minister Fayez al-Sarraj aimed at transforming a fragile truce that’s been rocked by violations by both sides into a lasting cease-fire.
The UN, along with others in the international community, is working to end a conflict that intensified with Haftar’s forces striking at the capital in April. The fighting has sucked in regional powers, with Haftar backed by the United Arab Emirates, Egypt and Russian mercenaries, while al-Sarraj is getting military and logistical support from Turkey.
Though OPEC member Libya is a major oil exporter, none of its output is shipped from the capital’s facility. Output from the country that sits atop Africa’s largest proven reserves of crude is already down to 135,745 barrels a day, according to the NOC. That’s slightly more than 10% of its level prior to the blockade on Libyan ports by Haftar supporters that began in mid-January.
Speaking in Geneva, UN envoy Ghassan Salame mentioned an attack on the port without giving more details. While stressing that neither side in Libya’s civil war had reneged on the idea of the truce, he said there was a need to step up enactment of the existing arms embargo.
European Union foreign ministers agreed on Monday to dispatch aircraft, satellites and ships to block shipments of arms to Libya’s warring factions.
The move triggered more of the political bickering that has plagued efforts to end the fighting.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, speaking in Rome after talks between the foreign and defense ministers of Russia and Italy, said the EU should seek approval from the UN Security Council as they move ahead with the plan to enforce the embargo.
His Italian counterpart, Luigi di Maio, countered that was unnecessary because the EU mission already has a UN mandate.
Salame welcomed the participation of anyone who could help enforce the embargo, so long as they stuck to UN resolutions. He pointed to Libya’s vast coastline, large area and numerous airports as daunting challenges.
–With assistance from Ilya Arkhipov and John Follain.
To contact the reporters on this story: Tarek El-Tablawy in Cairo at email@example.com;Grant Smith in London at firstname.lastname@example.org;Mohammed Abdusamee in Tripoli at email@example.com
To contact the editors responsible for this story: Nayla Razzouk at firstname.lastname@example.org, Mark Williams, Amy Teibel
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