BERLIN - Forces loyal to Libyan military strongman Khalifa Haftar blocked oil exports from the war-ravaged country's main ports Saturday, raising the stakes on the eve of an international summit aimed at bringing peace to the North African nation.
The move to cripple the country's main income source was a protest against Turkey's decision to send troops to shore up Haftar's rival, the head of Tripoli's U.N.-recognized government, Fayez al-Sarraj.
It came ahead of Sunday's conference in Berlin that will see the United Nations try to extract a pledge from world leaders to stop meddling in the Libyan conflict — be it through supplying troops, weapons or financing.
"All foreign interference can provide some aspirin effect in the short term, but Libya needs all foreign interference to stop," U.N. Libya envoy Ghassan Salame told AFP in an interview.
Call for 'protection'
But Sarraj issued a call for international "protection troops" if Haftar keeps up his offensive.
"Such a protection force must operate under the auspices of the United Nations. Experts will have to advise who should participate, such as the EU or the African Union or the Arab League," he told the Die Welt newspaper on Sunday.
The presidents of Russia, Turkey and France as well as U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo are to join the Sunday talks, held under the auspices of the U.N.
Haftar and Sarraj are also expected, German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas confirmed Saturday, ahead of the first gathering of such scale on the conflict since 2018.
After months of combat, which has killed more than 2,000 people, a cease-fire took effect on January 12, backed by both Ankara and Moscow, which is accused of supporting Haftar.
Drastic cut in crude production
But Saturday's blockade raised fears over the conflict.
The disruption to oil exports is expected to more than halve the country's daily crude production, to 500,000 barrels from 1.3 million barrels, translating to losses of $55 million a day, Libya's National Oil Company warned.
"Our line at the U.N. is clear. Don't play with petrol because it's the livelihood of the Libyans," warned Salame just hours before the blockade.