BENGHAZI, Libya (AP) — The United States and five Western nations have called upon forces loyal to a Libyan general to withdraw from three eastern oil terminals seized earlier this week, drawing a rebuke Tuesday from the internationally recognized parliament.
The U.S., France, Germany, Italy, Spain and Britain said the U.N.-brokered government based in the capital, Tripoli, is the "sole steward of these resources," adding that "Libya's oil belongs to the Libyan people."
"We also call on all forces to avoid any action that could damage Libya's energy infrastructure or further disrupt its exports," said the joint statement, issued late Monday. It also warned against "illicit oil exports."
Forces led by Gen. Khalifa Hifter seized control of Ras Lanuf, al-Sidra and Zueitina on Sunday. Hifter is allied with Libya's parliament, which is based in the country's far east and has not approved the U.N.-backed government, in part because of differences over his future role in the country.
U.N. envoy Martin Kobler called for an immediate cessation of hostilities and talks with Hifter — who he said has refused to meet him — to discuss the security vacuum in Libya and the need for a united army in a united country.
"I said always that Gen. Hifter must have a role in this joint united army structure, and I would like to sit together with him and discuss it," Kobler told reporters after briefing the U.N. Security Council in New York.
The oil-rich North African country slid into chaos after the 2011 uprising that toppled and killed Moammar Gadhafi, and has recently been split by rival authorities based in the east and in Tripoli, in the west.
Parliament Speaker Agila Saleh said Hifter's move was by "popular demand" and was authorized by Libya's official institutions. He said Hifter's forces "liberated the fields and the terminals from the occupiers and those hindering exports," referring to militia commander Ibrahim Jedran, who commands a force known as Petroleum Facilities Guards.
Jedran's militia seized the oil terminals more than two years ago and has tried to export illegally in the past. It is now allied with the U.N.-backed government, and Kobler brokered a deal with Jedran in July to resume exports.
Libya's conflict has crippled its once vibrant oil sector, denying the country an estimated $100 billion in revenues over the past three years. According to official figures, Libya exported 146 million barrels of oil in 2015, down from 531 million three years earlier.
Kobler said "oil production is at its lowest point ever with only about 200,000 barrels per day, compared to 1.4 million barrels" after the ouster of Gadhafi.
He said Hifter's takeover of the oil fields "will further hinder oil exports, deprive Libya of its only source of income, and increase the division in the country."
Saleh said Hifter's forces will withdraw once the Tripoli-based, state-run, and internationally recognized National Oil Corp. "assumes its responsibilities" in managing oil resources. The oil authority had rejected Kobler's deal with Jedran.
The Security Council reiterated support for the U.N.-backed government, national unity and reconciliation.
It urged the Presidency Council to keep trying to broaden its support, and to tackle Libya's political, security, humanitarian, economic and institutional challenges, including by improving the delivery of basic services, "and to confront the threat of terrorism."
Associated Press Writer Edith M. Lederer contributed to this report from the United Nations.