A Libyan politician campaigning for greater autonomy for the country's east said his movement could resort to blocking oil supplies if the central government failed to meet its demands for more seats in the national assembly.
Civic leaders from the east of Libya, known as Cyrenaica, launched a push to create a several federal states in Libya earlier this month, posing a challenge to the country's fragile cohesion after last year's overthrow of Muammar Gaddafi in a NATO-backed rebellion.
The proposal has provoked an outcry in the capital Tripoli, where many people fear it could lead to the break-up of Libya, especially as the ruling National Transitional Council (NTC) has struggled to assert its authority over the whole country in the aftermath of the revolution.
NTC chief Mustafa Abdel Jalil visited Benghazi, Libya's second largest city and the capital of the east, on Tuesday where he met with a representative of the Congress of the People of Cyrenaica, the driving force behind the campaign, to try to defuse the row.
Bubaker Buera, a founder of the Congress, told Reuters on Tuesday that the meeting was "general" and represented the start of a dialogue but that nothing concrete had been decided. NTC officials were not immediately available to comment on the meeting.
Asked what his group might do if its demands were not met, Buera said: "We may be forced to stop oil flow."
Beura said that there were enough oil technicians who supported calls for greater autonomy in the east to successfully stop the flow of oil, the mainstay of government income.
The east of Libya is home to more than 80 per cent of the country's oil wealth, and has been given 60 out of 200 seats in the national assembly, whose representatives will be elected in June in the first nationwide polls since Gaddafi's ouster.
The Congress has called for a third of the seats to be reserved for the east, assuming Libya would be devolved into three broad regions.
"We are asking for a balanced representation," Buera said. "You divide the number of seats by the number of regions."
Libya was ruled for about 10 years after its 1951 independence as a federation of three devolved provinces, Cyrenaica in the east, Tripolitania in the west and Fezzan in the south.
That system gave way to a more centralised government over the years, but, in the aftermath of Gaddafi's removal, myriad militias and local councils have been largely running their own cities, towns and sub-regions on a smaller scale.
Some complain that the NTC has done little to stabilise the country. The NTC complains that myriad local militias, who are jostling for power and resources post-revolution, have been slow to lay down their arms and join the national armed forces.
Buera said he wanted fairer representation for the eastern region which is home to about 2 million of Libya's 6 million people and was the birthplace of the revolution in February 2011 and the NTC's base until after the fall of Tripoli in August.
Residents of eastern Libya say Gaddafi had marginalised the region and have also demanded a greater share of oil wealth.
Plans to grant more autonomy to Libya's oil-rich east were already laid out this month in Italy's oil and gas summit held in Rome after months of unease among international oil companies over the uncertainty.
A new system in place will devolve power to subsidiary firms previously controlled by Libya's National Oil Corporation (NOC).
The east's Arabian Gulf Oil Company (Agoco) was first in Libya to restart production after the uprising and for a period marketed its own oil to international firms. Agoco said earlier this month a federal system would not affect its operations.