Reuters International

TRIPOLI (Reuters) - Libya's U.N.-backed government in Tripoli is in negotiations with an armed brigade controlling two main oil ports to reopen the terminals and lift a force majeure to restart exports, a member of its ruling council said on Monday.

Libya's oil industry has been battered by conflict among rival armed factions who control quasi-fiefdoms in a challenge to successive governments, and also by attacks by Islamic State militants which has expanded in the chaos.

The Tripoli statement follows positive remarks about reopening the ports from Ibrahim Jathran, commander of the Petroleum Facilities Guard who control Ras Lanuf and Es Sider oil ports with an export capacity of 600,000 barrels per day.

The two ports have been closed since 2014 after fighting between armed factions to control them. Islamic State has also launched attacks there. But Libyan forces recently pushed Islamic State back into its stronghold in Sirte.

"We are holding discussions with the Petroleum Facilities Guards (PFG) of the central region," Mousa Alkoni, a member of the government's presidential council said at a ceremony in Tripoli. "After the discussions with the PFG are finished, the force majeure will be lifted."

He did not give any further details, but Jathran has said that they are working to reopen the ports. Alkoni said he doubted production would return soon to previous levels.

Militant attacks, fighting between armed factions and a conflict between two rival governments have kept Libya's oil production at around 350,000 bpd, or less than a quarter of its output before the 2011 uprising that ousted longtime strongman Muammar Gaddafi and began years of instability.

Most analysts expect technical damage from shutdowns and militant attacks will delay Libya's attempts to recover its oil production to its capacity.

State oil company NOC is now merging with an energy company set up in the east by Libya's rival eastern government, a move seen by analysts as a step to restoring order to the industry. But that will also depend on armed groups on the ground.

The NOC in Tripoli, recognised by the international community, and the eastern NOC had operated in parallel as the rival governments struggled for control. The U.N.-backed government now in Tripoli is meant to supersede those administrations, but hardliners on both sides are holding out.

(Reporting by Ahmed Elumami; writing by Patrick Markey, editing by David Evans)

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