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Libya

Tanker seized by U.S. Navy SEAL forces

Militia stopped from exporting oil

U.S. Navy SEALs seized an oil tanker off the Mediterranean island of Cyprus, stopping an attempt by a Libyan militia to sell the shipload of crude in defiance of the Libyan government. Supporters of the militia, which calls for autonomy for the eastern half of Libya, vowed yesterday to try again to export oil from the ports they control.

The attempted sale of the oil was a stark symbol of the weakness of Libya’s central government, which has been unable to impose its authority over the North African nation since the ouster and killing of Moammar Gadhafi in 2011. Power in the country has fragmented among multiple, heavily armed militias, most of them regionally based.

An eastern-based militia headed by a commander named Ibrahim Jedran seized a series of oil facilities in the east last summer, bringing Libya’s output of 1.4 billion barrels a day to a trickle and gouging the government’s biggest revenue source. Jedran is part of a movement seeking autonomy for the eastern half of Libya, known by the historical name of Cyrenaica, which has long complained of discrimination by governments in Tripoli. Last week, his militia loaded up a North Korean-flagged tanker with a load of oil worth $30 million at the port of al-Sidra, and the tanker succeeded in eluding pro-government forces.

The tanker, Morning Glory, was seized late Sunday by U.S. Navy commandos in international waters off Cyprus, the Pentagon said in a statement. Rear Adm. John Kirby said no one was injured in the operation, which was approved by President Obama.

The attempted oil sale fueled a political crisis in Libya. The parliament, where Islamist lawmakers had a long rivalry with then-Prime Minister Ali Zidan, used the crisis to vote him out.

Libya’s interim government said in a statement yesterday that the oil cargo will be unloaded when it arrives in Libya. The crew is safe and will be dealt with in accordance with international law, it added. It thanked the United States and Cyprus and “all those who contributed” to the vessel’s capture, adding, “Oil is the backbone of the national economy and tampering with it . . . is unacceptable.”

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