Updated: 03/11/2014 02:46 | By Agence France-Presse

Libya halts North Korean-flagged tanker loaded with rebel oil

Libyan authorities stopped a North Korean-flagged tanker as it left a rebel-held port on Monday with an "illegal" shipment of crude, a military source said.

Libya halts North Korean-flagged tanker loaded with rebel oil

A Libyan Navy ship in the port of Tripoli on January 8, 2014, after taking part in an operation to prevent two tankers docking in the activist-held eastern port of Al-Sidra

Former rebels calling for autonomy for eastern Libya have been blockading the port of Al-Sidra and other key export terminals in the region since July last year.

On Saturday, they began loading crude onto the North Korean-flagged Morning Glory which docked in Al-Sidra.

On Monday, the navy intercepted the ship as it left the terminal with orders to escort it "towards a port controlled by the state," a military source told AFP on condition of anonymity 

The country's highest political authority, the General National Congress, confirmed the interception, Libyan broadcaster Al-Nabaa reported.

Walid al-Tarhuni, spokesman for the former rebels who had been blockading the terminals, told Al-Nabaa the tanker was probably heading for the port of Zawiyah, 50 kilometres (30 miles) west of the capital Tripoli, to unload its cargo.

Oil Minister Omar al-Shakmak had said earlier that the ship had interrupted loading late Sunday and put back to sea.

The 350,000 barrel-capacity vessel had only loaded 234,000 barrels of crude, according to a member of a crisis team formed by the government.

The official told AFP the navy would not allow the vessel to enter international waters, resulting in a standoff offshore.

Warships had deployed to block the Morning Glory after Culture Minister Amin al-Habib warned Sunday the tanker would be "turned into a pile of metal" if it tried to leave port.

The defence ministry had also deployed the air force, the official LANA news agency said.

Washington said Sunday it was "deeply concerned" over the loading of the "illicitly obtained" oil.

"This action is counter to law and amounts to theft from the Libyan people," State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said.

"The oil belongs to the Libyan National Oil Company and its joint venture partners."

- Breaking the blockades -

Ex-rebels at Al-Sidra spent the weekend loading oil onto the tanker, ignoring Prime Minister Ali Zeidan's threats to bomb the ship.

The former rebels turned against Libya's interim authorities after toppling veteran dictator Moamer Kadhafi in the north African country's 2011 uprising.

The GNC said that a task force composed of both regular troops and ex-rebel militia was being formed to bring the rebel ports back under central government control.

The decision was taken by the GNC president, Nuri Abu Sahmein, who is also Libya's armed forces chief, parliament spokesman Omar Hmidan said.

The crisis erupted in July, when ex-rebel security guards at key terminals shut them down, accusing the authorities of corruption and demanding a more equitable distribution of oil revenues.

The demands of the protesters swiftly escalated with a call for the eastern Cyrenaica region to be granted autonomy and the right to enjoy the revenues from its own oil exports.

Oil is a key source of revenue for Libya and following the blockade of terminals production plunged to about 250,000 barrels per day from 1.5 million.

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