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West urges Libyans to keep oil firm out of politics

Libya's National Oil Corporation (NOC) headquarters in the capital Tripoli -- it has largely managed to remain neutral in the face of the country's political wrangling. ©AFP

Tripoli (AFP) - Five Western nations urged Libyans on Friday not to drag the National Oil Corporation into political disputes that could threaten the country's fragile peace.

The statement came with the NOC's chief and the interim oil minister in a standoff.

"All actors" should "respect the unity, integrity, and independence" of the NOC, said the statement from the French, British, German, Italian and US embassies.

They also warned against "acts that undermine" the firm or "may pose a threat to the peace, security and stability" of the North African country.

The NOC is vital to the economy of a country sitting on Africa's biggest oil reserves, and is one of the few institutions to have stayed in one piece despite a decade of violence that for several years left Libya with two governments.

Unlike many other Libyan state bodies, the NOC has also largely managed to remain neutral in the face of political wrangling.

The statement did not directly accuse anyone of trying to politicise the firm, but it came after months of tensions between NOC head Mustafa Sanalla and Mohammed Aoun, oil minister in the country's interim government.

Aoun, whose position did not exist until interim Prime Minister Abdulhamid Dbeibah was appointed last year, has on several occasions attempted to have Sanalla removed from his post.

Libyan press reports say Aoun recently accused his rival of spying on his office and using oil revenues "as if it was his own money".

Aoun's ministry on Friday "strongly condemned" the Western statement which it called a "blatant interference in internal Libyan matters" and an attempt to dictate the fate of its oil and gas.

Sanalla, who took office in 2014 after years working for the NOC, has since positioned himself as an interlocuter with foreign powers and oil firms.He has also skillfully mediated disputes over oil operations to keep Libya's crude flowing despite its complex war, as well as boosting production during times of peace.

Libya has seen a year and a half of relative calm since a landmark October 2020 ceasefire, but analysts have warned of renewed tensions after the country's eastern-based parliament earlier this month picked a former interior minister, Fathi Bashagha, to replace Dbeibah.

Oil and crude revenues have been key prizes in the conflict that flared with a 2011 revolt which overthrew dictator Moamer Kadhafi.

Oil output, which crashed to near zero at various points of the conflict, is at around 1.2 million barrels per day compared to about 1.5 million in 2010.

"Bickering doesn't interest us, only production," Sanalla said in January, just after the NOC reported that revenues last year topped $21.5 billion.

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