BENGHAZI, Libya, July 14 (Reuters) – Libya’s Tripoli government said it had installed a new National Oil Corporation (NOC) chairman in the state producer’s headquarters on Thursday amid a power struggle to control a company whose revenues are the source of all state funding.
Prime Minister Abdulhamid al-Dbeibah’s decision to replace veteran NOC chief Mustafa Sanalla with former central bank governor Farhat Bengdara has prompted widespread opposition from rival factions.
Control of oil revenue has been the main prize for warring sides in Libya for years, with output last year reaching 1.2 million barrels per day (bpd), more than 1% of global crude supply.
Both Libya’s legislative bodies – which have backed opposing sides during the main east-west rivalry that fuelled years of war – on Thursday said they rejected the government’s move to replace the NOC board.
Analysts say Dbeibah’s decision to appoint Bengdara is an effort to woo eastern commander Khalifa Haftar to avert any new attempt to oust Dbeibah’s Tripoli-based Government of National Unity (GNU).
Haftar’s allies in the eastern-based parliament in March appointed a rival administration under Fathi Bashagha, saying Dbeibah’s government had expired. Dbeibah rejects that and has refused to cede power.
However, the maneouvering over NOC has opened rifts within both the main eastern and western camps that have for years been vying for control of the Libyan state.
The GNU published what it said was a photograph of Bengdara inside the NOC chairman’s office and two people inside the company headquarters told Reuters that he had entered the building.
An armed force aligned with Dbeibah deployed outside the NOC headquarters late on Wednesday and a witness said its vehicles remained there on Thursday, with some fighters standing inside the gates.
Earlier, NOC had shown what it said was footage of company employees tussling with GNU officials who were trying to bring in Bengdara.
The United States, which has been trying to defuse factional rivalry over access to oil supplies through a proposed new mechanism to oversee state finances, said it was following the situation with concern and it must not spark armed clashes.
It praised Sanalla, saying that NOC had under his leadership remained politically neutral and technically competent.
Sanalla rejected being sacked in a fiery speech, also saying Dbeibah had no authority because the GNU mandate had expired.
The parliament said in a statement that Sanalla’s board remained valid. The other legislative body, the Tripoli-based High State Council, called on Dbeibah to revoke the decision to install a new NOC head.
Eastern groups aligned with Haftar have for months blockaded oil installations as a tactic to force Dbeibah from office, taking 850,000 bpd from the market.
(Reporting by Ayman al-Warfali; Writing by Angus McDowall; Editing by Edmund Blair, Kirsten Donovan)
PHOTO – Mustafa Sanalla, Chairman of the Libyan National Oil Corporation (NOC). EPA-EFE/CHRISTIAN BRUNA