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Control of oil will decide Libyan war
by Staff Writers
Benghazi, Libya (UPI) Jun 29, 2011

disclaimer: image is for illustration purposes only

Oil is at the core of the civil war in Libya since whoever controls it will be the victor -- as "the Desert Fox," Germany's Field Marshal Erwin Rommel, found out when the British beat his Afrika Korps in the Libyan desert in 1942 after it ran out of fuel.

"The bravest men can do nothing without guns, the guns can do nothing without plenty of ammunition, and neither guns nor ammunition are of much use in mobile warfare unless there are vehicles with sufficient petrol to haul them around," Rommel declared in reflecting on his setbacks in Libya that would lead to the Afrika Korps' final defeat in neighboring Tunisia.

In the current conflict in Libya, a Mediterranean battleground since Roman times, both protagonists, Col. Moammar Gadhafi's dictatorial regime and the rebel coalition seeking his overthrow, are desperate to possess the North African country's oil resources.

Before the insurgency erupted in late February, Libya, with reserves of 44 billion barrels, was producing around 1.6 million barrels of oil per day, mostly high-quality crude favored by industrialized nations.

That made it Africa's third-largest producer after Nigeria and Angola, with 1.1 million bpd exported to Europe. That was worth around $145 million a day.

Both sides have battled to maintain some export facilities to help bankroll their military operations.

These days, the rebels hold the eastern sector of Libya, including oil fields and ports such as Brega and Tobruk. Gadhafi's forces hold the capital, Tripoli, and the western sector.

Both sides are struggling to control as much of the country's only resources as they can. They badly need fuel.

"As it did for Rommel, oil may be emerging as Col. Gadhafi's weak point," the Nationalist newspaper of Abu Dhabi reported Tuesday.

A NATO naval blockade imposed after fighting began in February and U.N. sanctions have pretty much prevented the regime from exporting oil.

The rebels' Transitional National Council in Benghazi, capital of eastern Libya, have appealed to Tunisia to block all fuel supplies to Gadhafi from their territory, a key supply route for the beleaguered regime.

European states are considering tightening sanctions against the regime, including a fuel embargo like the one imposed on Iran by the U.N. Security Council in June 2010 over Tehran's refusal to abandon its contentious nuclear program.

On June 11, Libyan insurgents seized the major oil port of Zawiya, in the Nafusa mountains 30 miles west of Tripoli, held by Gadhafi loyalists. That was Gadhafi's last operational refinery.

Refineries at the other key ports of Brega and Ras Lanuf are close to the front line and inoperative.

Brega, seat of the Sirte Oil Co., has changed hands three times and has been held by Gadhafi since April. But repeated NATO airstrikes may open the way for the rebels.

If Gadhafi could secure the western oil fields he could, in theory, ship up to 355,000 bpd, industry sources say. But right now that seems unlikely.

Italy's Eni oil giant, which has a 10-percent stake in Libya's oil fields, has said it was seeking to export oil from its fields. However, oil industry sources said only one of two shipments was successful.

Gadhafi reportedly was able to smuggle in gasoline from Tunisia, where middlemen transferred the fuel between ships.

He is even reported to have received oil from Italy, the former colonial power that has maintained good relations with Tripoli.

The rebels also have a strong foothold in the port city of Misurata in the regime-controlled west.

Although the city, 125 miles east of Tripoli, is under siege by Gadhafi's forces, the rebels still have access to the Mediterranean for supplies.

Gadhafi's latest tactic is to send heavily armed mobile columns south into the Sahara to secure the oil fields there, where he can call on nomadic Tuareg and Tubu fighters.

"In this environment, Rommel's observations on the importance of petrol as a decisive factor in campaigning in the Libyan desert are as relevant today as they were in 1942," observed Andrew McGregor, director of the Jamestown Foundation, a Washington think tank.

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15 Chinese workers fined over road protest in south Algeria
Algiers (AFP) June 29, 2011 - An Algerian court has sentenced 15 Chinese workers to a suspended six-month jail term and a fine of 100 euros for blocking a road to protest their employer's decision to send them back home, the daily El Khabar reported.

The workers, who were building a jail in Abadla in Bechar province, 1,000 kilometers (650 miles) of Algiers, had refused to return to China after their Algerian work permits expired, the Arabic-language paper said.

The protesters, who had arrived in Algeria a year ago to relieve another group of Chinese workers, closed off a main road on three occasions and ransacked equipment belonging to their employer to protest the decision to send them home, it added.

They were to be taken to Algiers ahead of their repatriation to China.

About 45 percent of the 50,000 foreigners working in Algeria are Chinese and they are heavily represented in construction and public works projects in the Algiers area as well as in all major cities.

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