PARIS—Western powers on Wednesday called for a cease-fire by Libyan militants near a key oil terminal, warning that damaging the facility would threaten efforts to stabilize the war-torn country’s economy.
The statement shows rising concern in European capitals and Washington about the refusal of militias from eastern Libya to fall in line with a proposed national government endorsed by the United Nations. The potential for conflict has spiked in recent weeks, with eastern militants threatening to attack oil exports authorized by the U.N.-backed government.
“The governments call on all parties to cease all hostile acts and avoid any action that risks damaging or disrupting the energy infrastructure of Libya,” according to a statement signed by France, the U.S., Germany, the U.K. and Italy.
The conflict over Libya’s oil has escalated since Libya’s National Oil Company, controlled by the U.N.-backed government, and a rival oil company from the east agreed to merge last month. The merger was seen a key step toward unifying Libya and consolidating control of the country’s vast oil resources under the national government.
Libya’s Petroleum Facilities Guard was preparing to resume exports from the Zueitina oil facility in northeast Libya and three other facilities. But eastern militants of the Libyan National Army have threatened to attack shipments from Zueitina and other facilities.
A French official said the petroleum guard was attacked by eastern militants last week.
“Control of all installations must return without preconditions, reservations or delay to legitimate national authorities,” the governments said in their statement.
European powers and the U.S. have been eager to stand up a national government in Libya with the capacity to counter a key security threat: the spread of Islamic State amid the chaos that has engulfed the country since the 2011 overthrow of strongman Moammar Gadhafi.
Officials say restarting the country’s oil exports is vital to providing the new government with desperately-needed revenue.