Warplanes strike airport in Libyan town, limited damage

Reuters News
Posted: Mar 04, 2015 8:36 AM

By Ayman Al-Warfalli

BENGHAZI, Tripoli (Reuters) - Two unidentified warplanes on Wednesday bombed the airport of the western Libyan town of Zintan, allied with the country's internationally recognized government, damaging electricity systems but not the runway, a local official said.

Libya is caught in a conflict between two rival governments and their armed forces, who are battling for control four years after the civil war that ousted Muammar Gaddafi and which has steadily tipped the North African state into chaos.

Zintan has been hit before by forces from Libya Dawn, which took over Tripoli during fighting in the summer and set up its own self-declared government.

"Two MiG warplanes had targeted the runway but they missed the target. But they bombed the lighting system which will force us to suspend all flights after sunset, said Zintan aviation official Omar Matoog without detailing who was responsible.

"The airport is still working normally."

Fighting and air strikes have escalated even as the United Nations prepares to restart negotiations this week between the two factions in an attempt to broker a ceasefire, form a unity government and put Libya back on track to stability.

Islamist militants, who have gained strength in Libya's turmoil, on Tuesday stormed two oilfields, driving out security forces. Workers had already been evacuated from the Bahi and Mabrouk oilfields earlier.

Ali al-Hassi, a security official allied with the recognized government, said the two oilfields had been destroyed after two days of clashes with the militants. He said fighting was continuing at a third field, Al-Dahra.

"We will move to take back over the fields tomorrow," he said. "Al-Dahra oilfield is still under control of our forces."

Es Sidra and Ras Lanuf oil ports, which make up half of Libya's oil output when operating normally, were shut down in December due to the conflict. Libya currently produces around 400,000 barrels of oil per day, compared to 1.6 million bpd before Gaddafi was toppled.

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The growing influence of Islamist militants and the escalating conflict between rival governments are worrying Western powers who fear Libyan chaos will spill over its borders and make the country a safe haven for militants.

The United Nations has said a unity government is the only way for Libya to fight militants and end unrest. U.N. officials will restart talks in Morocco this week between the two factions to try to broker a peace deal.

(Reporting by Ayman Al-Warfalli; Writing by Patrick Markey; Editing by Ralph Boulton)