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Analysts: Haftar 'Warmongering' Over Libya's Oil Revenues


FILE- Libyan military commander Khalifa Haftar gestures during Independence Day celebrations in Benghazi, Libya December 24, 2020.

WASHINGTON — Libyan military commander Gen. Khalifa Haftar this week called for establishing a "high financial committee" mandated with fair distribution of oil revenues, alluding to the possibility of using military force if his demands are unmet by the end of August.

Gen. Haftar, Libya’s strongman in the east, accused the country's Central Bank of mismanaging oil revenues, citing corruption incidents documented by the Libyan Audit Bureau and the Administrative Control Authority.

In a televised speech on Monday, Haftar said that "there is a level of looting of public money that has not happened in the contemporary history of Libya," claiming that over 200 billion dinars ($41 billion) have been wasted with no benefit for the Libyan people.

He added that "the armed forces will be ready for orders when the time comes," remarks interpreted by analysts as "irresponsible" warmongering.

Most of Libya’s oil fields are located in the east of the country, Haftar's stronghold. However, Tripoli-based National Oil Corporation, NOC, is the body responsible for the oil sector operations in the country.

Libyan economist Mohamed Safi told VOA that "Prime Minister Abdulhamid al-Dbeibah's monopoly on the oil revenues contributed to fueling Haftar's threats."

Haftar's remarks were preceded by several threats from the authorities in eastern Libya to block oil production over the Tripoli government's use of energy revenues.

"If necessary, the Libyan government will raise the red flag and prevent the flow of oil and gas and stop its export by turning to the judiciary and issuing an order declaring force majeure," the parliament-designated government in the east said in June.

Calls for a fair wealth distribution in Libya have been frequent and consistent since the ousting of the late Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi in 2011.

Libyan analyst Ibrahim Belqasm told VOA that it's highly unlikely Haftar will make a military move as he lacks local and international support, stressing that war will have devastating results.

"These remarks are irresponsible. Unlike in 2019 when he tried to take over Tripoli, Haftar today has no support as most of his allies gave up on him, including Egypt, UAE and even Russia," Belqasem said, adding that Haftar's offensive on the capital in 2019 left deep scars that are still present across the country.

Oil shutdowns have been utilized as a tactic in Libya's politics. However, while smaller localized shutdowns have sometimes been resolved within days, larger blockades tied to major political or military struggles have sometimes lasted months.

The Libyan military commander also attacked foreign ambassadors during his speech on Monday, including U.S. Special Envoy to Libya Ambassador Richard Norland, accusing them of deepening divisions among Libyans. "They should refrain from sticking their noses in the affairs of the Libyan people," Haftar said.

"This attack bears no value as Norland and the international community are diligently trying to urge all Libyan factions to avoid oil blockades and advance toward dialogue and elections," Belqasem said.

Norland said in a tweet last week that the U.S. "urges Libyan political actors to abandon threats of an oil shutdown that would be highly destructive to Libya's economy and hurt all Libyans," a call reiterated by Libya’s oil minister Mohamed M. Oun, who told CNBC on Wednesday that an oil blockade in the country "will not harm anybody else except the Libyans."

Norland refrained from directly responding to Haftar's attack, saying that the U.S. supports transparent and accountable revenue management mechanism.

"The important issue of how Libya’s oil revenues are distributed has been one of the issues underlying conflict in Libya, so I am pleased that my recent comments have generated such useful debate among Libyan leaders," Norland said in a tweet Monday.

Libya produces 1.2 million barrels per day, according to the NOC.

"Any oil disruption will have an impact on global energy markets especially after Saudi Arabia and Russia declared curbing their output," Safi said, adding that "Haftar cannot disrupt oil production as this will weaken his position with the international community, especially with the U.S."

Haftar receives a lump sum from the Tripoli-based government to pay his forces, but according to Safi, it's not enough to fund his operations.

"He will only go to war if he runs out of funds," Safi said.