BENGHAZI Libya (Reuters) - Libyan rebels who have seized oil ports in the past to press their demand for regional autonomy said on Friday they would declare independence in the east if the world recognized a rival parliament.
The actions of rebel leader Ibrahim Jathran are closely watched by oil markets. He and his followers once seized four major oil ports in eastern Libya, accounting for 600,000 barrels of oil, and held them for almost a year.
Jathran signed a deal with the government in April to reopen the oil ports and toned down his rhetoric. But now he has ramped it up considerably - he is not known to have threatened to break Libya up into separate states
Libya is already effectively divided. An armed group seized the capital of Tripoli in August, set up its own parliament and left the internationally recognized government and House of Representatives a rump state in the east, with the prime minister and his cabinet based in Bayda and the parliament in Tobruk.
"If the world recognizes the (rival assembly) General National Congress ... then we will be forced to declare eastern independence," the group led by Jathran said in a statement. It said the group was speaking for unidentified eastern tribal leaders as well.
On Thursday, Libya's Supreme Court declared the House of Representatives in Tobruk to be unconstitutional. Parliament dismissed the ruling as invalid because the court is based in Tripoli, which is under the control of the rival assembly.
Jathran's group said the ruling was invalid as the judges had not been working independently.
(Reporting by Ayman al-Warfalli; Writing by Ulf Laessing; Editing by Janet Lawrence, Larry King)