Seized tanker returned to Tripoli

Last updated 05:00 24/03/2014

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A commercial oil tanker that was seized and returned by US forces after it loaded crude at a Libya port held by anti-government rebels has docked back in the capital Tripoli.

US special forces seized the tanker a week ago off Cyprus, days after it left Es Sider port, which is controlled by rebels who demand more autonomy and oil wealth in defiance of the central government.

A Reuters witness on the coast near Tripoli saw the Morning Glory offshore. The tanker was due to arrive later at Libya's Zawiya port, where its cargo of crude will be fed into the Zawiya refinery.

It was a rare victory for Tripoli, which is struggling to end a port blockade by rebels, one of many challenges facing the weak central government which has failed to secure the North African country three years after the fall of Muammar Gaddafi.

Former anti-Gaddafi rebels and militias refuse to surrender their weapons and often use force or control of oil facilities to make demands on a state whose army is still in training with Western governments.

The crew of the Morning Glory, which was North Korean-flagged until Pyongyang disavowed the vessel, say armed Libyan rebels boarded the ship, forced them to load crude and to evade the Libyan navy sent to stop them.

Eastern federalist leader Ibrahim Jathran, whose fighters seized the three ports last summer, is demanding a greater share in Libya's oil resources and more autonomy for his region where many feel they have been abandoned by Tripoli for years.

The Tripoli government gave Jathran a two-week deadline on March 12 to end his port blockade or face a military assault, though analysts say Libya's nascent armed forces may struggle to carry out that threat.

Western governments, which backed NATO's air strikes to help the 2011 anti-Gaddafi revolt, are training Libya's armed forces and are pressing the factions to reach a political settlement.

But the powerful rival militias, with bases in the east and west of the country and political allies in the parliament, remain power brokers in a country where weapons from Gaddafi's era and the NATO-backed rebellion are easily available. 

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- Reuters

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