Libyan army in heavy fighting with oil port rebels; Tunisian diplomat kidnapped in Tripoli

A rebel under Ibrahim Jathran holds the Cyrenaica flag while standing on a boat at Es Sider port in Ras Lanuf, where a North Korean-flagged tanker had loaded crude oil, March 11, 2014

Libyan rebels occupying oil ports clashed with troops on Saturday after attacking an army base where reinforcements were preparing for an offensive to break the blockade, local residents said.

Anti-aircraft gunfire and explosions were heard late at night and again after dawn on Saturday in Ajdabiya, the hometown of rebel leader Ibrahim Jathran, whose fighters seized three ports in summer to demand a greater share in Libya’s oil wealth.

Fighting broke out just hours before the return to Libya of an oil tanker seized on Sunday by U.S. commandos in the Mediterranean after it had loaded crude at one of the ports Jathran’s men have occupied.

The Morning Glory, once a North Korean-flagged vessel, was expected to arrive on Saturday in Libya under U.S. Navy escort and dock at Zawiya, one of the country’s key ports under government control.

Tunisia’s Foreign Minister Mongi Hamdi speaks during a news conference in Tunis, February 11, 2014.

Also this: Unidentified gunmen have kidnapped a Tunisian diplomat in Tripoli, Tunisia’s foreign minister said on Saturday, one of a string of diplomatic abductions in the Libyan capital this year.

Three years after Libya’s revolt to topple Muammar Gaddafi, the North African country is struggling to impose security in the face of brigades of former rebels, Islamist militants and ex-fighters who refuse to disarm.

“A Tunisian diplomat was kidnapped in Tripoli, the Tunisian ambassador told me that his car was found empty,” Foreign Minister Mongi Hamdi told the local radio station Shems FM.

No further details about the abduction or the victim were immediately available. But the minister urged Libyan authorities to protect members of its diplomatic mission.