CAIRO, March 24 (Reuters) - Libya's state oil firm NOC based in the Tripoli is operating independently, said a minister of a rival government of the North African that controls the capital city.
Last week, the internationally recognised government based in the east said it wanted oil buyers to pay though a firm also called NOC but based in the eastern city of Benghazi. The established NOC is based in Tripoli where a rival government is in charge.
The issue is important for oil buyers wondering who owns Africa's largest oil reserves. Tanker loadings have not been disrupted by the statement, oil officials say.
"The General National Congress, National Salvation Government and ministry of oil and gas... know well the importance of independence and neutrality of sovereign state institutions, especially of National Oil Corp, and to leave it out of political struggles," rival Oil Minister Mashallah Zwai said in a statement on Tuesday.
He was referring to a rival parliament reinstated in Tripoli after an armed faction called Libya Dawn seized the capital in August.
Like previous ministers, Zwai has been working from inside the NOC headquarters in Tripoli, which has led to questions whether he is in involved in the daily work of NOC, such as issuing oil tenders.
In apparent attempt to deflect such concerns, Zwai said his ministry, which is in charge of oil policy and granting concessions, would move to a new location once it had been built.
Zwai warned the official Premier Abdullah al-Zwai and his appointed head of NOC east not to sign any new contracts with firms, the statement said.
Libya's oil production has fallen to less than 500,000 barrels a day, a third of what the OPEC member used to pump before a 2011 uprising toppled Muammar Gaddafi.
(Reporting by Ulf Laessing; Editing by Louise Heavens)
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