Libyan leader Moamer Gaddafi's crumbling regime is still being boosted by millions of dollars of crude export revenues despite Western sanctions, the Financial Times reported Saturday.
The business newspaper, citing a senior Western oil official and traders, said that payments for oil exports were finding their way back to Libya's central bank, and possibly into Gaddafi's control.
In the last week of February, when the violence began, Libya exported about 570,000 barrels per day, and shipped about 400,000 barrels of oil over the past week, according to the FT.
The Libyan crude oil shipped over the past fortnight is worth about $770 million (550 million euros) at current price levels, the paper added.
Libya is the fourth largest oil producer in Africa and accounted for around 2.3 percent of global crude oil output before the crisis erupted.
The FT added that Libyan exports were now tailing off, but that Chinese and Indian firms have continued to buy the crude.
Before the weekend, New York crude oil prices spiked to a two-year high point above $104 per barrel on Friday, as traders watched heavy fighting in Libya, particularly in the east, which accounts for about two-thirds of the country's production.
In another blow, the Paris-based International Energy Agency estimated on Friday that Libyan production had fallen by one million barrels per day (mbpd) due to the crisis.
OPEC member Libya normally exports around 1.6 million barrels a day, 85 percent of which goes to Europe, according to the IEA, which represents the interests of industrialized oil-consuming nations.
"After the evacuation of Western oil production crews, Libyan output levels are difficult to ascertain, although our latest information suggests around 1.0 mbpd out of a prevailing 1.6 mbpd of crude production has been shuttered," the IEA said in a brief statement issued Friday.
"Libyan ports, which loaded 1.337 mbpd of crude in 2010, are operating at reduced rates because of poor weather at the end of February and ongoing unrest. It is estimated that 500,000-600,000 barrels of crude lifted from Libyan ports in the last week."
Serbia arm dealers
As Libya churned with popular rebellion, Serbia's ex-president flew to Tripoli to arrange an interview with Gaddafi for a Serbian TV channel - giving the Libyan leader a platform to bluster about his grip on power.
"The Libyan people are fully behind me," Gaddafi defiantly told Pink TV in a telephone interview.
The gesture of support for Gaddafi was not officially endorsed by the Serbian government. But it has been criticized at home for failing to join worldwide condemnation of Gaddafi's bloody crackdown against the uprising.
A possible reason for the silence: hundreds of millions of dollars worth of military and construction contracts. Serbia's cozy ties with Libya sit ill with its recent efforts to rehabilitate its image after the Balkan wars, in particular by participating in peace keeping missions.
It's almost certain that some of the ammunition fired by Gaddafi's troops against pro-democracy protesters in Libya was made in Serbia, and that some of the air force pilots who targeted rebel-held positions were trained by Serbs.
Western nations like Britain and Italy have armed and cooperated with Gaddafi’s regime, but the issue is particularly sensitive for Serbia as it tries to join the European Union and possibly NATO and shed its image as a pariah nation.
"Serbia and former Yugoslavia had exposed themselves to a political risk with the defense deals with controversial regimes like in Libya," said military analyst Sasa Radic.
During the 1970s and 80s Yugoslavia's defense industry struck several export deals with nations in Asia, North Africa, and the Middle East, including Saddam Hussein's Iraq, which made the Balkan country one of the top 10 arms exporters in the world.
The trade collapsed when Yugoslavia itself disintegrated in the 1990s. But it has been picking up in recent years, particularly in Serbia, which retains the Balkans' largest defense industry.
Liberal Serbs condemn deal
A liberal Serb group has demanded that Belgrade stop arming the Gaddafi regime, even as Serbia's defense ministry claims it has suspended all ties with the Libyan military since the uprising began.
And while the government supplied arms Gaddafi likely used against his people, the leaders of a youth movement that toppled Serb dictator Slobodan Milosevic in 2000 have supplied Middle East protesters with inspiration, and in some cases advice.
Veterans of Serbia's Otpor movement went on to create an organization that trains would-be rebels in the art of peaceful revolution. They trained one of the main youth groups at the center of Egypt's revolution, and believe that influenced the Libyan rebellion.
"It is likely that some Libyan youth groups got the idea on how to oust Gaddafi from the Egyptian activists whom we have trained," said former Otpor leader Srdja Popovic.
Serbia's Defense Ministry also rejected Arab media reports that Serb "mercenaries" had piloted Libyan jets that bombed protesters in the eastern city of Benghazi.
Gaddafi said in his interview with Pink TV that "the Arab media tried to bribe (the Serbs) to say that they bombed the civilians."
The Serbian military has been working hard in recent years to improve its tarnished image.
During the Balkan wars in the 1990s, scores of Serbs were found guilty of war crimes and crimes against humanity. But in recent years, the army's reformist leadership has sought to change that image by offering to participate in international peacekeeping operations in Africa, the Middle East and Asia.
But that's an uneasy fit with Serbia's close dealings with Libya.
Serbian companies recently reached tentative deals to build, equip and staff a military hospital in Libya, as well as to continue training Libyan air force pilots and to overhaul and maintain some 120 warplanes sold by the former Yugoslavia in the 1970s and 80s.
"The former Yugoslavia and Serbia have a long history of cooperation with Gaddafi's military, of which selling the know-how played a major role," Radic said.