February 16, 2014 (JUBA) - South Sudan’s oil minister said on Sunday that if the current conflict continues it could undermine oil production and its export to international markets through the territory of neighbouring Sudan.
- A worker walks at the power plant of an oil processing facility at an oilfield in Unity State April 22, 2012 (Reuters)
"The oil continues to flow normally in Upper Nile but there is a growing threat around the oil fields. There have been repeated attempts by the rebels to attack some areas in Adar and Paloch but they were repulsed", Stephen Dhieu Dau, South Sudan’s minister of petroleum, told Sudan Tribune on Sunday.
However "the government is capable to provide protection to oil workers and operators", he further added.
The minister’s comments follow threats from the rebels to close down oil production should government forces continue to carry out attacks on areas under the control of their forces in different parts of the country.
Some of South Sudan’s oil fields have been targeted in the fighting leading output dropping to 200,000 barrels per day down from 240,000 bpd. Despite production resuming last year after a 15 month shutdown when Juba and Khartoum could not agree on oil transit fees and other issues related to South Sudan’s separation from Sudan in July 2011.
At independence, South Sudan’s oil production was around 350,000 bpd, before Juba ordered the China National Petroleum Corp, India’s ONGC Videsh and Malaysia’s Petronas to halt production.
Work in some fields has been suspended due to lack of staff to run the facilities, with many foreign nationals evacuated and most South Sudanese having to flee for security reasons.
A ceasefire deal signed at end of January 23 failed to stop the fighting in Jonglei and the oil-producing states of Unity and Upper Nile.
"The government of Salva Kiir doesn’t want peace, nor does it care about the country as a whole", Yien Mathew Chol, a senior rebel official told Sudan Tribune on Sunday.
According to Chol, Kiir’s disregard for the well-being of the nation was illustrated by his decision to invite the Ugandan military, who have been accused of using cluster bombs, to help him fight the rebellion.
"They are paying Ugandan army to use banned weapons in this conflict. The intention is to eliminate our people from the existence, which is unacceptable. Our people have the right to organise and seek any support from anybody to acquire arms to defend themselves" Chol said.
Juba’s admission that it is paying the Ugandan troops who are operating in the country has drawn strong criticism from both the armed and political opposition. Chol said that the government should stop wasting the South Sudan oil revenues on funding foreign forces.
Chol, who is a former spokesperson for the ruling Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM), accused the government of repeated attacks on the positions of forces allied to the former Vice President Riek Machar in different parts of the country.
"We have continued to receive reports of repeated attacks on the positions of our forces in different parts of the country. They do that every day in Upper Nile and Unity. They killed prominent chiefs in Panyijar County in the attack that was carried out by government forces from Lakes state", he said.
East African observers are due to be deployed to South Sudan to witness whether the two sides a sticking to the cessation of hostilities agreement.
UPPER NILE CLASHES
However, the Upper Nile state information minister, Philip Jiben Ogal denied that government forces in the area carried out attacks on areas under the rebel control, claiming that rebels attacked the position of the South Sudanese army (SPLA).
"The SPLA forces in Upper Nile state received [a] briefing from the governor and the sector commander, Lieutenant General Johnson Gony Bilieu, when the cessation of hostilities agreement was signed. They had [a] full briefing about the agreement and so they have never carried out any attack instead it is the rebels who have carried out repeated attacks since the cessation of hostilities agreement was signed", Minister Ogal told Sudan Tribune on Sunday.
Ogal said that a rebel attack on Thur-Gwang in Manyo county a week ago, resulted in the death of at least 17 people and the destruction of many houses belonging predominantly to members of Shilluk community. The attackers, he said, were repulsed by the government troops in the area on Monday 10 February.
"This attack was carried out by a force which rebelled from Wadakona in support of Riek Machar. They are now wandering about in the forests of Manyo County, terrorising [the] innocent civil population", he said.
"There was also a fighting on Friday south of Malakal town. It was in Pigi County in Jonglei state but which is not very far from Malakal. It was within the area of Canal, just north of Jonglei state", he added.
Ogal repeated the claims of the oil minister that there was an attempt by the rebels - known as the SPLM-in-Opposition - to move to areas which host oil fields in Adar and Paloch on Monday 10 February "but they were defeated by the SPLA forces".
The rebel’s attacks on Makal and Panyikang counties were also repulsed, he said.
"The intention for attacking these two areas was to divert the attention of the SPLA forces from the attack on the oil fields but this tactic was discovered already and the SPLA forces were deployed in an advance because we have the information they would attack these places", he explained.
Hussein Mar, a key rebel official taking part in the talks with the government’s delegation in Addis Ababa said their forces control 90% of the areas where oil is produced in the states of Upper Nile and Unity.
"We do not want to close down the oil because other parties would be hurt. Closing the oil fields has not been one of our objectives otherwise our forces would have closed them down long time ago because we control 90% of the areas where oil is produced in both Unity and Upper Nile state", Mar said on Sunday.
The SPLM-in-Opposition official said government forces have only dug themselves into trenches in towns but that much of the rest of the greater Upper Nile region was under their control.
"Do your assessment and you will find that the Salva Kiir’s forces and their Ugandan mercenaries and Sudanese rebels have only dug themselves in trenches in towns but much of the area is under our control. This is a clear reality. No single county in Jonglei, Upper Nile or Unity is under complete control of the president Kiir’s forces”, Mar claimed on Sunday.
Juba has denied that Sudanese rebels have fought with South Sudanese army against the SPLM-in-Opposition and refused the rebel’s demand that the Ugandan army be withdrawn.
Mar was reacting to reports alleging that the rebels have drawn their support based on ethnic allegiances. Machar is an Nuer while President Kiir is a Dinka, however both sides have supporters from a variety of South Sudan’s many tribes.
The destruction of most of Bor town and the mass killing of civilians has led many South Sudanese to draw parallels with the 1991 split in the SPLA when Machar’s forces attacked the Jonglei state capital killing around 2,000 people.
"The current conflict has nothing to do with the past which some people seem dwell on it but it is a war by people who are fighting to survive and rescue their own family members and relatives because the government of Salva Kiir has become a tribal government”, Mar commented.
During the first days of the conflict in the capital Juba, Nuer civilians were targetted by members of the security services, 100 of whom of been arrested according the government.
At least 10,000 people have been killed according to some estimates, while over 700,000 people have been displaced inside South Sudan and around 150,000 have fled to nearby countries.
Lawmakers in South Sudan’s national parliament told Sudan Tribune on Sunday that four counties in Upper Nile state are controlled by forces allied to the former vice president, Riek Machar.
"Unless there is a new development to the information I know. The government now controls Malakal town and few others but the four counties of Nasir, Ulang, Longichuk and Maiwut are under [the] rebels" an Upper Nile MP who did not want to be named said on Sunday.
"The rebels also seem to control most areas in Jonglei and Unity. This is a big security challenge. It is also a threat to stability and peace”, the legislator told Sudan Tribune.