UAE brokers meeting on El Sharara oilfield

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The United Arab Emirates is bringing together players in Libya’s conflict and the state oil firm to reopen the El Sharara oilfield, the North African country’s biggest, diplomats and other sources said.

The UAE is the largest backer of Khalifa Haftar, a key figure and commander of the Libyan National Army (LNA) force, which this month took control of two oilfields in Libya’s south, El Sharara and the nearby El Feel facility.

The LNA called on state oil firm NOC to reopen the 315,000 barrel-a-day El Sharara field closed since state guards and tribesmen seized it in December to make financial demands.

NOC Chairman Mustafa Sanalla rejected the LNA demands, saying El Sharara was not secure because the gunmen were still on the site.

It was not clear whether Haftar would travel to the UAE as his office could not be reached for comment.

Apart from Sanalla, Tripoli-based Prime Minister Fayez al-Serraj confirmed he would attend, his spokesman said on Twitter.

UN Special Envoy Ghassan Salame and US diplomats will also attend, sources said.

NOC said in a statement Sanalla would meet unidentified Libyan players to “discuss security measures necessary to find a solution to the Sharara crisis that guarantees staff safety and paves the way for lifting of force majeure at the field.”

Force majeure is a contractual waiver declared by NOC in December when it shut down production at El Sharara, located deep in Libya’s south.

Serraj heads the internationally recognised government in Tripoli which opposes a parallel administration in the east allied to Haftar. Sanalla is in Tripoli but has sought to keep NOC out of the conflict between the governments.

The UN is mediating between the camps to overcome divisions and prepare for elections but has had little progress. Salame’s plan to hold a national conference to decide on the format of elections has met resistance from Haftar supporters emboldened by recent military progress.

The LNA started a campaign in January to secure oilfields and fight militants in the south, expanding his territory claim beyond the east which it controls.

The LNA already secures oil ports in eastern Libya, forcing NOC to work with Haftar, supported by the UAE and Egypt.