By Ayman al-Warfalli
| BENGHAZI, Libya
BENGHAZI, Libya An armed faction entered a major Libyan oil terminal and an airport at the neighbouring one on Friday, after attacking forces that have controlled the terminals since September, officials and residents said.It was unclear who controlled the ports late on Friday as fighting continued. There was no statement from the Libyan National Oil Corporation (NOC), which reopened the ports after the eastern-based Libyan National Army (LNA) took them over seven months ago.Since then the LNA's opponents have launched several unsuccessful attacks against the ports in Libya's eastern oil crescent. Earlier on Friday the LNA said it had used air strikes and ground troops to repel the attack by the Benghazi Defence Brigades (BDB). But port engineers and a Libyan oil source said the BDB entered Es Sider port, and the BDB posted pictures of its fighters at an airport in neighbouring Ras Lanuf.The oil source denied reports that workers at Es Sider had been evacuated, and port officials said operations had not been affected.
Later, the LNA said it had retaken control at Ras Lanuf airport. A medical source said at least three LNA troops had been killed and five wounded in the fighting. Es Sider and Ras Lanuf are among four ports that the LNA took control of in September. That allowed the NOC to reopen three of the ports which had long been blockaded, leading to a sharp boost in Libya's oil production. The Benghazi Defence Brigades are composed partly of fighters who were ousted from Benghazi by the LNA, where LNA commander Khalifa Haftar has been waging a military campaign for nearly three years against Islamists and other opponents.
The LNA brands its opponents as Islamist extremists, and both sides accuse the other of using mercenaries from Libya's sub-Saharan neighbours to the south. Libya has recently been producing about 700,000 barrels per day (bpd) of oil, more than double its output early last year but still far less than the 1.6 million bpd the OPEC member was pumping before the 2011 uprising.
But production remains vulnerable to political turmoil and continued insecurity, with factions based in the east and west of Libya repeatedly clashing in recent weeks in desert areas southwest of the Oil Crescent whose ports suffered major damage in previous rounds of fighting and are still operating well below capacity. Tankers have been loading at Es Sider since December, with the Amalthea due to arrive on March 7 to load 630,000 barrels for Austria's OMV (OMVV.VI).The NOC has been lobbying foreign firms to return to Libya and invest in the oil and gas sector as it tries to push production to 1.2 million bpd later this year. Es Sider and Ras Lanuf have a potential combined production capacity of about 600,000 bpd. (Additional reporting by Ahmad Ghaddar and Julia Payne in London; Writing by Aidan Lewis; Editing by Robin Pomeroy)
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Updated Date: Mar 04, 2017 00:32 AM