London, Asharq Al-Awsat—Libyan authorities released three men on Monday who were arrested aboard the rogue Morning Glory oil tanker.
The men were detained aboard the tanker when it was seized by US Navy SEALs two weeks ago at the request of the Libyan government, after it had taken on oil from the rebel-controlled port of Sidra.
They are reported to be members of the rebel militia that has blocked three key oil terminals in the eastern half of the country, demanding more autonomy and a greater share of oil revenue.
A source in the Libyan attorney-general’s office told the Reuters news agency that the three men were released as a goodwill gesture, in the hopes of improving chances for a negotiated end to the standoff between Tripoli and the rebels occupying the eastern ports.
Sadiq Al-Sour, head of investigations at the attorney-general’s office, told Reuters he disagreed with the decision.
“These are people who committed crimes . . . Now justice is entering political conflicts,” he said.
The North Korean-flagged tanker found itself at the center of a dispute between Libya’s central government in Tripoli and the rebels after the latter attempted to use it to ship oil abroad, outside of the control of Tripoli and Libya’s National Oil Corporation.
After attempts by forces loyal to the central government to prevent it departing failed, the ship was seized in waters south of Cyprus. The affair led to the downfall of then-interim Prime Minister Ali Zeidan, who was dismissed by the Libyan parliament.
The tanker and its cargo were turned over to the Libyan government by the US Navy last week.
The rebels blocking the oil have hindered the Libyan government’s attempts to end the security vacuum in the country. The government remains unable to impose its authority on the various militia units that it relies on in the absence of professional security forces, which are in the process of being trained with foreign assistance.
Although Libya’s oil revenues account for more than 90 percent of the government’s funding, the country’s oil exports have at times fallen to less than 100,000 barrels a day (bpd) as rebel action shut down exports across the country in 2013, down from over 1 million bpd in 2012.