Libya's state-run oil corporation has declared 11 oil fields in the country non-operational after attacks by suspected fighters from Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), just hours before another round of United Nations-backed peace talks kicked off in Morocco.
The National Oil Corporation of Libya blamed authorities in the capital of Tripoli for failing to protect the oil fields. The statement, issued Wednesday night, says that "theft, looting, sabotage and destruction" of the oil fields have been on the rise despite pleas for the authorities to ensure safety of Libya's oil installations.
The corporation warned that it could take similar action to close other Libyan oil terminals and facilities. "If security deteriorates, the corporation will be forced to close all fields and ports, which will result in a total deficit in state revenues and directly impact people's lives, including with power outage," the statement said.
More than three years since the ouster and execution of dictator Muammar Gaddafi, Libya is engulfed in chaos. The country is bitterly divided between two rival parliaments and governments and a wide array of militias.
The internationally recognized government and parliament have set up a base in Tobruk, in the country's far east. They were forced to relocate outside of Tripoli last summer after the city fell to militias.
The oil company on Wednesday also announced that it was invoking force majeure, a contract clause that frees the company from liability whenever an extraordinary event beyond the party's control makes it impossible to fulfill production demand.
The development came hours after insurgents from the central coastal city of Sirte — under control of one of Libya's ISIL affiliates — stormed the al-Dhahra oil field, about 100 miles to the south. The insurgents surrounded the oil field from three sides, exchanged gunfire with the guards and prompted Tripoli-based government to launch airstrikes, which ultimately failed to stop the assault. When the guards ran out of ammunition, the insurgents stormed the field, looted it and blew up buildings on the facility.
Libya's turmoil has provided fertile ground for ISIL-linked insurgents to set up a foothold in the North African country. They took control of cities such as Darna in eastern Libya and also Sirte and have carried out several deadly suicide bombings across the country. In January, they stormed a luxury hotel in Tripoli, and in February released a video showing them beheading 21 Egyptian Christians. The Egyptian military launched airstrikes on Darna in retaliation.
The oil corporation earlier said that Libya's oil production has dropped dramatically, to about 25 percent of normal levels. It now stands at about 500,000 barrels per day, according to Oil Minister Mashallah al-Zewi.
Khaled Ben Osman, head of the National Council for Oil and Gas in Tripoli, said the 11 non-operational oil fields make up 30 percent of the overall number of fields in Libya. The remaining ones are not all operational and a number of them have either closed for maintenance or have remained closed since the anti-Gaddafi uprising.
Meanwhile, a new round of peace talks kicked off on Thursday in Morocco involving representatives from both governments as well as the militias who back them.
The talks, mediated by U.S. envoy Bernardo Leon, are meant to find a way out of the crisis, which has left nearly half a million Libyans displaced, whole cities and towns in ruins and the country internationally isolated.
In a good will gesture, Libyan air force commander Saqr al-Jourshi, allied with the Tobruk-based government, told Dubai-based Al-Arabiya network that he is halting airstrikes — which have targeted both Tripoli’s and ISIL’s strongholds — for three days to give the talks a chance.
Al Jazeera and wire services