Libyan forces loyal to a powerful general say they have seized a third oil terminal from a rival militia, giving the divisive leader a bargaining chip in negotiations with rival U.N.-backed authorities in the capital, Tripoli.
Forces led by Gen. Khalifa Hifter said late Sunday that they had seized the Zueitina terminal from a militia known as the Petroleum Facilities Guards, hours after capturing the nearby terminals of Ras Lanuf and al-Sidra.
Most of Libya's oil exports went through the three terminals before the militia seized them more than two years ago.
Hifter's army units urged the state-run oil corporation, which is based in the capital, Tripoli, to resume oil exports.
Libya drifted into chaos following the 2011 uprising that toppled and killed Moammar Gadhafi, and today is split between rival parliaments and governments in the east and west, each backed by a loose array of militias and tribes.
Hifter enjoys the support of the internationally-recognized parliament which meets in the east. The parliament has refused to approve the formation of a U.N.-backed government in Tripoli, in the west, in part because of differences over Hifter's future role in Libya.
The capture of the oil terminals could strengthen Hifter's hand, making it more difficult to ignore demands from him and others in the east for more clout in a power-sharing government.
The U.N.-brokered presidency council — which is tasked with forming a unity government — said late Sunday that the takeover by Hifter's forces is “contradicting the path of reconciliation and frustrating Libyans.”
The nine-member council is deeply divided between supporters and opponents of Hifter. Martin Kobler, the U.N. envoy to Libya, expressed concern over the general's seizure of the terminals.
Libyan forces loyal to the U.N.-backed government are currently battling a powerful Islamic State affiliate in the central city of Sirte with the help of U.S.-led airstrikes.
The U.S. and other Western nations view the U.N.-backed government in the capital, Tripoli, as the best hope for unifying Libyans and defeating the extremist group.