BENGHASI (Reuters) – Production at Libya’s El Feel oil field was halted on Thursday, a tribal leader and an oil engineer told Reuters by phone.
According to the tribal leader, the interruption is considered a protest against the kidnapping of a former finance minister.
The El Feel field has a capacity of 70,000 barrels per day and is operated by Mellitah Oil and Gas, a joint venture between state oil company NOC and Italy’s Eni.
No immediate comments were available from the NOC.
The oil engineer said several protesters entered the field and forced personnel to leave the field after operations were suspended.
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“The field [El Feel ] has stopped,” said the engineer.
The leader of the Zawi tribe, al-Senussi al-ahlaiq, told Reuters by phone that the closure of El Feel aims to pressure authorities in Tripoli to send their son Faraj Bumatari, the former government’s finance minister, in protest against his “kidnapping” after he arrived at Mitiga Airport on Tuesday.
The tribe threatened in a recorded statement Wednesday night that it would shut down the oil facilities until its son Bumatari was released.
“The matter will be bigger and preparations are also underway to shut off the water supply to Tripoli,” al-Ahlaiq said.
Bumatari is a candidate for central bank governor, the tribe said in a written statement, adding that “it leaves him vulnerable to danger and kidnapping.”
The UN mission in Libya said in a statement that the “shutdown must end immediately” and is concerned by reports of some oil fields being closed in response to the Bumatari kidnapping.
“This would unnecessarily cost the Libyan people their main source of income,” the UN said.
The mission added that five members of the High Council of State (HSC) were also reportedly banned from entering the same airport.
HSC is a legislative chamber that emerged from the first parliament elected in 2012 in Tripoli in negotiations with the East Benghazi House of Representatives elected in 2014 to reach consensus on electoral legislation that would take the country to national elections.
“These acts are creating a climate of fear and fueling tensions between communities and tribes,” the mission said.
HSC chief Khalid Mishri blamed Prime Minister Abdulhamid Dabaibathe for the safety of council members, saying in a recorded statement: “Any prime minister’s recklessness towards any member of HSC members means we are heading strongly and urgently towards conflict.”
Libyan oil production has been shut down repeatedly in the chaotic decade since the NATO-backed insurgency against Muammar Gaddafi in 2011 for various political reasons and demands from local protesters.
(Reporting by Ayman Werfalli in Benghazi, Text by Ahmed Elumami and Clauda Tanios; Editing by David Evans and Diane Craft)
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