Tripoli will remain calm, although as elections approach in the coming weeks there will be an increased risk of political demonstration in central areas of the city, and around government buildings and major hotels housing foreign media, who are likely to return in time for the polls.
Benghazi will also remain calm overall, but there is a heightened risk of demonstrations with the potential for violence in the run up to the elections. The risk of violence is higher in Benghazi given the added element of disagreements over semi-autonomy. Statements by leaders of the self-appointed autonomous council are likely to raise tensions over the coming weeks and beyond.
AKE also assesses that there is a heightened risk of clashes and attacks by those opposed to the transition process in the run up to the elections. There have been a number of incidents in recent weeks of attacks targeting NTC and UN personnel in Benghazi. Although attacks have so far been small in scale, personnel should be aware of the risk, particularly around large gatherings or in proximity to high profile government buildings.
AKE personnel on the ground reported that Tripoli remains relatively calm, although there have been reports of clashes over the last week. In one notable clash one police officer and two armed assailants were killed outside the internal security headquarters in the al-Jadeeda area of the capital.
Overall however, Tripoli has been quiet and AKE personnel assess security in the major populated areas to be positive. Company management with personnel in the country should be mindful of the risk posed by the lack of law enforcement presence in the city, which puts the responsibility on the company to have adequate response procedures in place should personnel on the ground be involved in an incident.
Benghazi remains calm, although there is a heightened risk of demonstrations with the potential for violence over the coming months in the run up to elections. The self-proclaimed autonomous council representing the east of the country called for people to boycott the June parliamentary elections, which it claims will not provide adequate representation to the east of the country. This is likely to heighten tensions in the run up to the polls, and personnel on the ground should be aware of the risk of demonstrations in cities throughout the east, particularly Benghazi, which will have potential to turn violent at short notice. A number of apparently peaceful protests in the city have turned violent following provocation by groups opposed to the protest. Demonstrations are most likely in central squares of major cities, as well as outside government buildings and major hotels housing foreign media.
Reports indicate that Libya’s largest oil company AGOCO has cut its oil production by 20,000 bpd due to continued protests that have closed off its headquarters in Benghazi for more than a week. Management have been prevented from entering the building since 23 April, and although the reports are unconfirmed, an AGOCO spokesman stated on 3 May that the company had cut production at its Sarir and Mesla fields in the eastern Sirte Basin by 20,000 bpd from 370,000 bpd. AGOCO is the largest producer in Libya, and any long term disruption to its levels of production could have a significant impact on overall production, and harm government finances. The company has threatened to cut production further if agreement is not found.
AKE sources on the ground indicated that although negotiations over agreement have been ongoing, it remains unclear whether a solution has yet been found.
Smuggling on the Western border
Recent reports indicate that the smuggling trade between Tunisia and Libya has increased markedly since the uprisings that toppled the regimes of Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali and Muammar Gaddafi. Previously the higher levels of security on the border meant that smuggling was carried out by a small number who were willing to risk their lives. With the deterioration in border security on both sides, smuggling gangs have been able to form that have seen the industry boom. The main smuggled export from Libya to Tunisia remains fuel, which is heavily subsidised in Libya, and therefore very lucrative to buy and sell across the border in Tunisia. Smuggling in drugs, alcohol and a host of other products has also increased in both directions over the last year.
The NTC has made increasing its control over border security a major priority, and may look to the private sector to provide the necessary training and equipment to carry this out. However, it must first gain control of Libya’s entry points from regional militias who retain control over large parts of the country. Progress on reigning in the militias has so far been slow, and there will be concerns that without a centrally controlled border security force to oversee the country’s entry points, militias may increasingly become involved in the smuggling, providing them with the funds to pay their militiamen, thus making the job of disbanding them more difficult.
AKE sources on the ground report that obtaining desert passes, which enables personnel to travel to oil facilities in the southern desert, is proving difficult in many cases. The security department that was in control of the oil field locations are not there anymore, their place being taken by local militias. This means that even with a desert pass, personnel could face issues with gaining access to certain areas controlled by different militia groups.
Companies with contacts within the relevant militia groups are advised to utilise these in order to assist with gaining access. Often local fixers can assist with contacts in different areas and make the process of visiting the southern desert much easier.
Furthermore, in order to obtain a desert pass the company must have sponsorship involving a locally registered company.
Shokri Ghanem Death
The body of former Oil Minister under the Gaddafi regime Shokri Ghanem was discovered in the Danube River in the Austrian capital Vienna on 29 April. Recent reports indicate that Vienna’s top murder investigation team is handling the case, although there has been no confirmation as to whether Ghanem was murdered. Ghanem was apparently wanted for questioning by the new interim regime. His position as head of the National Oil Company (NOC) for years meant that Ghanem was likely privy to potentially damaging information, including on oil deals negotiated with foreign governments and companies. The government is currently undertaking an investigation into alleged corruption in oil contracts, although no major announcements over potentially damning evidence have been made. It remains unlikely that major contracts will be torn up given that Libya is keen to encourage further investment in production and explorations by NOCs.
Alan Fraser is a Libya specialist with AKE, a British risk mitigation company working in Libya throughout the crisis. You can access AKE’s intelligence website Global Intake here