Libya's chief of staff on Tuesday threatened to target foreign oil tankers if they entered territorial waters, after a controversial deal was struck between the United Nations envoy and a militia commander in control of the oil terminals.
The agreement between U.N. Envoy to Libya Martin Kobler and militia leader Ibrahim Jedran, has been widely criticized amid accusations that it empowers the warlord who is viewed by many as having held Libya's oil hostage for the past three years.
Brig. Gen. Abdel-Razek al-Nadhouri warned foreign companies against signing oil deals with any party except for the state-run National Oil Corporation (NOC) branch in Benghazi.
"Any movement of any vessels or oil tankers toward the Libyan territorial waters without prior agreement with the NOC affiliated to the Libyan parliament, will be targeted," the statement read.
Libya's oil corporation — like the rest of the oil-rich North African country's state bodies— has been split between eastern and western branches.
Benghazi's branch falls under the authority of the internationally-recognized parliament seated in the eastern city of Tobruk. The western one falls under the Tripoli-based, UN-brokered government which together with a presidency council was formed after rival factions in Libya signed a peace deal last year aimed at ending the country's rift.
The eastern parliament has so far failed to give a crucial vote of confidence to the government, because of objections over a key article in the peace deal that determines who would wield authority over the armed forces.
Al-Nadhouri — who answers to the eastern parliament— made his threat days after Kobler and Jedran struck their deal. Many from both sides believe that the deal — the terms of which haven't been publicly laid out — empowers the militia commander and undermines the government.
Jedran commands a large force named the Petroleum Facilities Guards (PFG). In 2013, he closed Libya's three major terminals, Ras Lanuf, al-Sidra and al-Zueitina, causing a sharp decline in oil output from 1.6 billion barrels a day in 2011, before the ouster of Libya's leader Muammar Gaddafi, to less than a quarter of that production in 2016. Revenues have been dealt a major blow and Libyans lost over $100 billion in potential profits over the past three years, according to NOC officials. According to official figures, Libya exported a total of 146 million barrels of oil in 2015 in contrast to 531 million barrels in 2012.
While the deal remains unclear, political figures have speculated that it involves hefty payment for Jedran and his militiamen in return for opening the ports, as was the case under successive transitional governments prior to the closure. Unconfirmed reports suggested that the PFG will receive 241 million dinars or $180 million.
The spokesman for the NOC in Benghazi, Mohamed al-Munifi, said that both branches of the NOC oppose the deal with Jedran, because it, "sets a precedent for other militias to take a similar approach by holding the Libyan people's income hostage."
In a letter to the U.N. and the unity government, the head of NOC in Tripoli, Mustafa Sunallah, expressed strong opposition to the deal and described Jedran as a "criminal."
"He has an entirely malevolent influence, with no concept of a national interest. His only motive is what is good for Jedran," he wrote, adding, "My only conclusion is that you are either ignorant of the consequences of what you are doing, or you have set an almost unbelievably low standard for your achievements in Libya."
Jedran responded with a brief statement obtained by The Associated Press, saying, "The letter is not worth the ink written with."