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Tuesday, December 2, 2014

OPEC chooses sides in Libya dispute

Libya is a prominent member of the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries(OPEC). At present, Libya has two competing governments. The internationally recognized government is in Tobruk and the other in Tripoli, the capital.



The Tobruk government is led by Prime Minister, Abdulla al-Thinni who had also been Prime Minister earlier of the transition General National Congress. The Tripoli government is headed by Prime Minister Omar al-Hassi. Both governments expected to be invited to the OPEC conference last Thursday.
 A recent decision by the Libyan Supreme Court on November 6 had ruled that the June elections were unconstitutional and that the Tobruk government should be dissolved. The UN said that it was studying the decision but still talks of al-Thinni as the prime minister of Libya while refusing to assign any title to members of the rival government even on the rare occasion it even mentions any by name. The international community in general is observing strict silence on the ruling and acts as if nothing at all happened. OPEC decided to invite only the Tobruk government. This is further evidence that the international community remains behind the Tobruk government even though much of the country is under control of militias many of them Islamist who oppose the CIA-linked General Khalifa Haftar who now has the support of the Tobruk government. The Tobruk government has given him the green light to do battle in Benghazi and Tripoli even though these actions clearly violate the mission of the UN to broker dialogue and a political solution to the crisis.
 The oil minister of the Tripoli government Mashallah Zwai said his cabinet would take legal action against OPEC if they were not invited. Given that the UN so far has given no recognition at all to the Tripoli government the court case will probably go nowhere. Zwai spoke from the offices of the National Oil Corporation(NOC). He also threatened to not pay OPEC fees and cancel membership if his group were not invited. The Al-Thinni delegation in Vienna responded by appointing al-Malbrook Bou Seif as new chairman of the NOC. There may be some doubt if Seif will ever be able to travel to NOC headquarters in Tripoli.
While as the internationally recognized government the Tobruk government is entitled to the oil payments that are paid into the central bank, the headquarters of both the central bank and NOC are in Tripoli controlled by the rival al-Hassi government. While al-Thinni could stop sending the oil money to the central bank this would no doubt provoke a strong response from the Tripoli government as well as depriving Libyan civil servants and others of their income. Thinni too depends upon the NOC for regulating the oil industry and sales of oil. So far both sides have let the NOC and the central bank continue normal operations. If this structure breaks down then the entire country and economy will be in complete disarray. So far both sides have realized that both are dependent upon not interfering in the operation of these two key institutions but that may now change given the actions of the al-Thinni government in appointing their own oil minister.
The previous head of the NOC Mustafa Sanallah had been retained by al-Thinni. Appointing a new minister will simply increase the conflict with the al-Hassi government. The Tripoli government has taken over ministries, some oil facilities and control a large area of west and central Libya. Two bombing attacks recently on the Mitiga airport in Tripoli by General Haftar have exacerbated the situation to such a degree that even the UN complained and talked to Al Thinni about the situation. The Tobruk government has threatened to separate from Libya if the Tripoli government is recognized by the international community. Now al-Hassi warned that Libya might break up if the al-Thinni is allowed to appoint his own chair of the NOC and perhaps next form an eastern-based oil company.
 Hassi sees the appointment as an attempt to take over eastern oil facilities with the help of General Haftar's militia which have now in effect merged with what was left of the regular Libya army. Al-Hassi claimed: "There are attempts (by Thinni) to set up an eastern Supreme Court, there are attempts to launch a central bank in the east, there are attempts to establish a separate oil ministry in the east. " Al-Thinni denies he has any plans for secession. However, the new chair picked by al-Thinni, Al-Mabrook Seif is from the same tribe as Ibrahim Jathran. Jathran was the rebel leader who held the ports for a year pressing for regional autonomy and more oil returns to the east of the country. Jathran made a deal with Thinni to open the ports while Thinni was prime minister of an earlier government. Jathran said he will promote secession if al-Hassi's government is recognized. This illustrates the separatist aspect of the present conflict an issue often ignored in favor of the narrative that the conflict is between Islamists and their opponents led by General Haftar.
However Haftar does have supporters in the west notably the Zintan brigades. Hassi said that Turkey might be able to mediate between the two sides. Turkey is one of the few countries that has had formal contacts with the Tripoli government.Turkey has had meeting with senior officials in the Tripoli government and but also has good relations with al-Thinni. Hassi said: "We are open to dialogue. This conflict cannot be solved by war." The Tripoli government has suggested that subsequent to a referendum on the constitution after drafting is completed there should be new elections to create a legitimate government. Both sides accept the committee that is drafting the new constitution. On the other side, General Haftar speaks of nothing but defeating his opponents by attacks on Benghazi and Tripoli. He has already recaptured some parts of Benghazi but with considerable loss of life. He has not a word to say about dialogue.
 General Haftar told an Italian newspaper that he would capture Benghazi within two weeks and the capital Tripoli within three months. Haftar said: “For Tripoli we are only at the beginning. We need more men and more supplies and weaponry. I have given myself three months, but maybe we will need less.."
The UN meanwhile is demanding dialogue and still insisting that there is only a political solution possible: The members of the Security Council underlined that there can be no military solution to the current crisis. They expressed their full support to Special Representative of the Secretary-General Bernardino León and urged all parties to engage constructively with his efforts to resume an inclusive political process aimed at addressing the political and security challenges facing the country. The members of the Security Council strongly condemned the escalation in violence in Libya. They noted with concern the recent attacks on public and civilian infrastructure... Recalling resolution 2174 (2014), the members of the Security Council emphasized that the Sanctions Committee is prepared to sanction those who threaten Libya’s peace, stability or security or that obstruct or undermine the successful completion of its political transition. Notice that no groups are named and no specific violence is mentioned nor any individual named on either side. There is no mention that Haftar claims the bombings on Tripoli or that he has vowed to continue fighting in Benghazi and for Tripoli. Haftar need not worry about being sanctioned for threatening Libya's peace, stability, or security. He is the good guy tackling the bad Islamist menace after all.
You can expect see more and more about radical Islamists even links to the Islamic State by a group that runs Derna even though radical Islamists have controlled Derna for ages and even carried out a public execution on a soccer field back in August of this year when it was ruled by an Al-Qaeda linked group. All of a sudden after the group that runs Derna has pledged allegiance to the Islamic State it will be big news and will be used in a propaganda drive to support Haftar and warn about the Islamist menace in Libya. These same people were among the foremost rebels fighting against Gadaffi.

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