By Ayman al-Warfalli
BENGHAZI, Libya (Reuters) - Libya has seen "good intentions" at indirect talks with eastern rebels which might lead to the lifting of their blockage of major oil ports within days, acting oil minister Omar Shakmak said on Thursday.
Hopes have been building in oil markets that an eight-month blockage of major oil exports ports will end ever since rebels and the government said they were close to an agreement.
Any deal will help the OPEC member halt its slide into instability as the weak central government has seemed unable to control militias who helped oust Muammar Gaddafi in 2011 but kept their guns and made political demands on the state.
"There are good intentions," Shakmak told reporters in the eastern city of Benghazi, adding that tribal leaders and local leaders were working hard to negotiate with the port rebels.
He did not elaborate. The government also gave no update, issuing only a cabinet statement stressing that the talks were of an indirect nature conducted by tribal and other leaders.
Movement towards an agreement came after the federalist rebels managed to load oil onto a tanker at one port they control and force it out to sea in an attempt to sell the crude. It was later boarded by U.S. commandos and returned to Libya, killing hopes of the rebels to sell oil.
Analysts said a key problem will be to work around a rebel demand to hold a referendum on whether to introduce a federalist state - devolving some powers and control of oil revenue to regional authorities, as under Gaddafi's predecessor King Idris.
Such a demand is sensitive as the government fears it might open the door to secession in the North African country.
Deep divisions exist between the long-neglected east and the capital Tripoli and richer western cities such as Misrata, compounding Libya's rivalries among tribes, competing political factions and brigades of former rebel militias.
WESTERN FIELDS CLOSED
Libya's crude output has fallen to around 150,000 bpd from 1.4 million bpd in July when a wave of protests started across the vast north African country, whose proximity to Europe just across the Mediterranean makes it a strategic energy supplier.
A deal, if confirmed, would not necessarily end the shutdown of several oilfields in western Libya by a different set of protesters.
Shamkak said the southwestern 340,000 bpd-El Sharara field, the El Feel field and an oil condensates pipeline from the Wafa field to the Mellitah port were all still closed by protesters.
Mellitah, west of Tripoli, is run by Libya's state oil firm and Italy's.
In contrast to the east, protesters at western oil facilities, such as the closed El Sharara field, are divided into small groups with different demands and lack joint leadership with whom Tripoli can bargain.
(Reporting by Ayman al-Warfalli, Ulf Laessing, Ahmed Elumami and Feras Bosalum; Editing by David Evans)