Tripoli - A Libyan commander whose militia took over vital oil terminals in the country's east said on Tuesday he is seeking help from the United States in a standoff with the government over the seizure.
Ibrahim Jedran said in a televised statement carried by his private network that US help in monitoring his militia's management of oil exports and revenues would be "welcome".
The militia sparked a three-day crisis when it attempted to load oil into a North Korean-flagged tanker that docked without government permission in the key port of al-Sidra. The militia seized the port last summer.
The government said on Monday that its forces had taken control of the tanker, but the militia denied this. A spokesperson for Jedran's group, Essam Jehani, said it had already sailed into international waters without facing any resistance and that he would post a video of the ship leaving port. It was not possible to verify his account.
US Ambassador Deborah Jones has said the militia's action was "counter to law and amounts to theft".
"Any oil sales without authorization from these parties places purchasers at risk of exposure to civil liability, penalties and other possible sanctions in multiple jurisdictions," she posted on her Twitter account on Saturday, adding that the tanker was loading "illicitly obtained oil". She said the oil belongs to the Libyan National Oil Company and its partners, including the US companies.
The conflict over Libya's vast oil reserves is the latest in series of crises hitting the country since rebels overthrew long-time dictator Muammar Gaddafi in 2011. In an absence of security, it has relied heavily on former rebels and militias but they have pressured elected authorities, challenging a hoped-for transition to democracy.
In his remarks, Jedran, a former anti-Gaddafi rebel, referred to a pre-Gaddafi law that regulated certain quotas of oil revenues among the country's three historic regions, including the eastern Cyrenaica. He says he wants regional autonomy for the marginalized region.
"We welcome the international partners, including the United States if they want to monitor how we distribute the money," he said, adding that partners' shares in the oil would be protected. "We welcome a constructive role by the United States to preserve unity and to look into Cyrenaica's aspirations for justice."
After seizing the ports, he demanded the government to form a committee to redistribute oil revenues among the country's three regions.