Libya’s National Oil Corporation (NOC) said on Friday Russian and other foreign mercenaries had entered the Sharara oilfield on Thursday, adding that it completely rejects “attempts by foreign countries to prevent the resumption of oil production”.
It said the mercenaries had entered Sharara in a convoy of vehicles and met with representatives of the Petroleum Facilities Guard (PFG), a force established to maintain security at the oil fields.
Libya has been effectively divided since 2015 between areas held by an internationally recognised government in Tripoli and a rival administration in Benghazi.
Oilfields and export facilities are mostly located in territory controlled by the eastern-based Libyan National Army. An international agreement says that oil can only be exported by the Tripoli-based NOC, with payments going to the Central Bank there.
The LNA is backed by Russia, the United Arab Emirates and Egypt and this month suddenly lost much of its territory around Tripoli and the northwest to the internationally recognised Government of National Accord (GNA), backed by Turkey.
Oil exports were halted in January by eastern forces, cutting off Libya’s main source of revenue. After the GNA made gains this month, NOC attempted to restart production at Sharara and another field, El-Feel.
In a statement, NOC chairman Mustafa Sanalla, said: “Some (countries) cynically express their public regret for Libya’s continued inability to produce oil while all the time working in the background to support blockading forces”.
The frontlines in Libya have stabilised over the past two weeks west of Sirte, a central coastal city that is the closest to the main oil export terminals.