February 21, 2014 (JUBA) - South Sudan said on Friday that it is evacuating foreign oil workers from the oil fields in Upper Nile state, allegedly to avoid being caught in the crossfire, should the rebel launch attacks in the area.
"The government has since Monday, been receiving numerous requests from the foreign oil workers, through their governments and the representatives of the companies they work for, to consider evacuating them from the area urgently, because of the developing security situation", Francis Ayul, Upper Nile State minister of mining and petroleum told Sudan Tribune on Friday.
"Based on genuineness of the request, and considering the current security situation in the state, the state government in consultation with the central government responded to the requests and approved the immediate evacuation of all foreign workers involving in the engineering work."
Minister Ayul said the evacuated foreign workers would be kept in the country’s capital, Juba, while some of the trained local workers with the knowledge of the area will remain in the field to monitor and maintain facilities.
"Not all of the oil workers will be evacuated. We are giving priority consideration to the foreign workers involved in the engineering work. The trained local workers with the knowledge of the area will remain in the field to provide maintenance and monitor the facilities”, Ayul explained.
Upper Nile is South Sudan’s main oil producing state with production from Unity state severely dropping since the outbreak of conflict in mid December.
Despite a ceasefire deal on 23 January between the government and the rebels - a loose coalition of defected soldiers and armed civilians - both sides have violated the agreement.
Armed clashes broke out in Malakal town, capital of Upper Nile state on February 18. The South Sudanese army (SPLA) say that the attack was unprovoked but the rebels say the reacted when a large section of the army in Malakal defected to join them as they had done in Jonglei and Unity state.