World powers will be complicit in the collapse of the rule of law in Libya if they do not do more to call out the countries backing those responsible for disrupting the country’s oil exports, the head of the Libyan national oil corporation has said.
Mustafa Sanalla said too many western powers were happy to let the countries meddling in Libya sign non-intervention agreements that they had no intention of honouring.
He said his country was facing “a disaster and a nightmare” as a nine-day blockade of oil ports by forces loyal to the Libyan National Army (LNA), headed by Gen Khalifa Haftar, continued. Oil production has fallen from 1.2m barrels a day to 260,000 barrels.
Sanalla said production would soon drop to 70,000 barrels, and the cumulative impact would be a loss of $440m. He said it would soon be impossible to pay 1.3m public sector salaries in east and west Libya, requiring the country to look for loans on the international market. The production blockage could also be causing long-term damage to Libyan pipelines, as crude oil left in pipes will corrode them.
Sanalla, seen as one of the few authoritative neutral voices in Libya, said: “The international community has to understand that if it tolerates or even rewards those who break the law in Libya, then it will be complicit in the end of the rule of law in our country. And that means more corruption, more crime, more injustice and more poverty.”
He said world powers “seem happy when they secure agreement from a wide range of countries to international statements calling for ceasefires and political settlements. But they know that many of those countries will sign anything and then continue to supply weapons to the war fighters, and to pour poison into social media with their sophisticated disinformation campaigns, undermining the very solutions they have officially supported.
“We need not just words but action from UN security council members, particularly the UK, US and France, who all pride themselves on their support for the rule of law. We need them to call out the hypocrisy of those countries – or those within their governments – who prefer instead to pursue their own national interests at the expense of the Libyan people.”
He added: “The world superpowers have to give the facts to the Libyan people about responsibility for the shutdown of the oilfields.”
World leaders meeting in Berlin this month backed a Libyan ceasefire and an end to meddling by regional powers, including the arming of either side in a war that has pitted Haftar’s eastern-based forces against the UN-recognised Government of National Accord based in Tripoli.
Haftar responded to the Berlin conference by shutting down the oilfields and resuming the shelling of Tripoli, part of an offensive he started in April.
Sanalla said: “There is a rule-of-law solution to problems in Libya. It is the only solution. But it seems the countries that have traditionally been the strongest backers of the rule of law need to find their voice and common purpose. This is not about choosing one side or the other in Libya. There are too many sides, too many interests. The Libya conflict is about right and wrong.”
Sanalla, an oil technocrat and not a politician, said it was not for him to name the countries breaching the Berlin agreements, but it was time for western powers to do so. “We know there is a proxy war in Libya, but it is for the superpowers to fix this. When superpowers say stop it, it stops,” he said.
It is widely known that Haftar is backed by the United Arab Emirates and Egypt, and to a degree by France. Very few powers including the UN are willing to criticise the UAE role in public.
Sanalla said that if the blockaders were rewarded, “you will see it repeated, not just in Libya but potentially across the whole of the Middle East and north Africa, as people who feel they have a grievance decide it’s worth trying an oil blockade”.
Sanalla has no doubt the blockade was ordered by the LNA, since its members instructed oil corporation staff by telephone to close the ports. He said a systematic campaign on Libyan social media, originating in the east of the country and from countries that support eastern forces, had kickstarted a “shut down oil” movement.