December 26, 2013 (BENTIU) - The commander of the South Sudanese army (SPLA) in Unity state who defected over the weekend claimed on Thursday that oil production has been halted due to a lack of staff.
- Commander of the SPLA’s fourth division in Unity state, Maj. Gen. James Koang Chuol, on 25 February 2013 (ST)
James Koang Chuol, who took control of the army’s fourth division in Unity state on Saturday, told Sudan Tribune that he had not ordered the shutdown, saying the decision was taken by oil technicians who were evacuated from the area on 25 December.
The UN says that over 1,000 people are believed to have been killed in the fighting. Last week, 16 oil workers were killed by their colleagues in a revenge attack for the alleged ethnic targeting of people in the capital, Juba.
“We are not the one to stop the oil”, said Koang, adding that the oil belonged to the South Sudanese people.
The South Sudan government also confirmed that work on Unity state’s oil fields had been halted temporarily, but denied reports that the area was under the control of rebels allied to former vice-president Riek Machar.
“Work on Unity oil fields has temporary stopped”, information minister Michael Makuei said, admitting that rebel forces were in control of the Thar Jath oil fields.
Machar, who is leading the rebellions in Unity, Jonglei and Upper Nile states, said on 23 December that forces under his command will divert oil revenues accrued from the country’s oil wells.
Machar denies plotting to overthrow president Salva Kiir, but says he was forced to flee Juba in the aftermath of fighting between members of the presidential guards. He told Sudan Tribune that he intended to stop oil revenue remittances reaching the government in Juba.
“There is no administration in the country so the oil money cannot be taken by one side, we are not longer on the side of Kiir; we have already decided [to] break away from his administration”, Koang said, adding that the oil money should be administered by the international community until the conflict is resolved.
Koang, who declared himself Unity state’s new governor on Saturday, said the conflict in South Sudan was not about money, explaining the reason for the defection of the army in Unity state, where most of the population is from the Nuer ethnic group, was sparked by anger over reports of mass killings of civilians from their community in Juba.
Since reports emerged of Nuer being targeted in the capital, revenge attacks have been carried out against Dinka civilians in other parts of South Sudan. Two peacekeepers were killed with around 20 Dinka civilians in an attack on the UN base in Akobo, in the far east of Jonglei state last week.
Another Nuer General, Peter Gadet Yaak, defected on 18 December, taking control of Jonglei’s capital, Bor, for several days until it was eventually reclaimed by government forces on 24 December
Machar has also claimed to be in control of Upper Nile state, South Sudan’s second largest oil-producer, where fierce fighting has been reported in Malakal, with both sides claiming to be in control of the state capital.
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