NATO denies bombing Libya's biggest oil field
NATO on Thursday denied bombing Libya's biggest oil field and accused the Kadhafi regime of attempting to block crude from getting to Tobruk after a rebel shipment set sail for international markets.
"The accusation by Colonel Kadhafi that NATO was responsible for fires in the Sarir Oil Fields is false," NATO said in a statement from its base in Naples which is overseeing military operations in Libya.
"The only one responsible for this fire is the Kadhafi regime and we know he wants to disrupt oil getting to Tobruk," said Lieutenant General Charles Bouchard, commander of the NATO mission.
As a tanker left the port of Tobruk on Wednesday carrying oil worth up to 100 million dollars, Libyan deputy foreign minister Khaled Kaim accused British warplanes of bombing the southeast oil field and destroying a key pipeline.
"British fighter bombers raided the Al-Sarir oil field, killing three guards at the site and wounding other people working at the field," Kaim said, adding that a pipeline linking Al-Sarir to Tobruk had been damaged in the attack.
The eastern city of Tobruk is currently in the hands of the rebels.
Bouchard rejected Kaim's claims and blamed Libyan leader Moamer Kadhafi for the fires, which he said were "a direct result of his attacks on his own people and infrastructure."
Attacks last week by pro-Kadhafi forces had resulted in "a number of skirmishes with anti-Kadhafi forces and at least one fire at an oil facility in the region of Sarir," according to the NATO statement.
The alliance, acting under a UN mandate to protect civilians from Kadhafi's forces, had "never conducted strike operations in this area because his forces were not threatening civilian populations from there," Bouchard said.
Libya, a key crude-exporting nation that was producing some 1.7 million barrels a day (bpd) before the uprising broke out in mid-February, has seen its output slashed since.
According to the International Energy Agency, Libya's exports averaged 1.49 million bpd before the uprising, with 85 percent of that going to Europe.
The Greek-owned, Liberian-registered tanker is carrying one of the first consignments of oil from rebel territory since coalition air strikes began on March 19 and is destined to finance the rebels.
© 2011 AFP