Libyan forces threaten N. Korea-flagged oil tanker

TRIPOLI, Libya — Libyan government forces and loyal militia fighters besieged a North Korea-flagged tanker Sunday that a rival militia hoped to use to export oil in defiance of central authorities, officials said.

Al-Habib al-Amin, the country’s culture minister and a top aide to Libya’s prime minister, said in a news conference that navy vessels were deployed to al-Sidra port to stop the tanker.

‘‘It’s final and decisive. Any attempt [by the tanker] to move, it will be turned into scrap,’’ Amin said.


The Libya Revolutionary Operation Room, an umbrella group of militias that answer to the interim Parliament, said in a statement on its official Facebook page that its forces are helping to prevent the tanker from leaving port.

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‘‘In case it doesn’t surrender, the tanker will be shelled completely,’’ the statement said. In a second note, the group said that 22 fishing vessels mounted with mortar and rocket launchers are surrounding the tanker.

Al-Sidra is one of the biggest ports in the country and has been under control of eastern militias since the summer, slowing the country’s oil output — once estimated at 1.6 million barrels a day — to a trickle.

The seizure of the terminals and attempted oil sales show Libya’s security and economic woes, which have piled up since the toppling of dictator Moammar Khadafy in 2011.

His ouster left the country without a functioning government, as well as weak military and police forces.


Successive interim governments have tried to rein in rebels by enlisting them to maintain law and order. However, many of the militias serve their own interests and turned the country into fiefdoms.

For months, the Libyan government has been threatening to use force against the eastern militias that demand greater self-rule and equal distribution of oil wealth among Libya’s three historic regions.

The militias also ask for an investigation into allegations of corruption marring oil sales.

The crisis has tested the authority of embattled Prime Minister Ali Zidan.

Zidan has repeatedly threatened to use force to reopen the ports, but there have been no consequences.