SPLM delegation with Ugandan forces in Bor County, Jonglei state. They were there to investigate an alleged massacre of civilians., a photo by Pan-African News Wire File Photos on Flickr.
South Sudan Evacuates Oil Workers
Government Heeds Calls From Oil
Companies to Ensure Workers Aren't Caught in Crossfire
By NICHOLAS BARIYO
Feb. 22, 2014 3:12 a.m. ET
KAMPALA, Uganda—South Sudan on Saturday started evacuating scores of foreign oil workers from Upper Nile State, as government troops battled to halt a rebel advance in the flash point state, threatening a full crude production shutdown.
Military spokesman Col. Philip Aguer said that government was heeding to calls from foreign oil companies to ensure that the workers aren't caught in crossfire.
The conflict, which erupted in December following a flare up of an internal power struggle between President Salva Kiir and his former deputy, Riek Machar now threatens to choke the world's youngest nation from its major source of revenues. Upper Nile is the only state where oil fields have been pumping since the conflict erupted. In December, South Sudan halted at least 45,000 barrels-a-day of oil production in Unity state after companies evacuated workers days after the outbreak of fighting.
"The rescue is underway, all foreign oil workers are being brought to Juba" Col. Aguer said.
An official with the state oil company, Nilepet, who declined to be named because he isn't authorized to speak for the company, told The Wall Street Journal that output at least two oil fields, Gumri and Adar, was halted Friday, cutting crude output from the state by at least 20%. The workers being evacuated are mainly Chinese, Malaysian and Indian nationals.
"Two oil fields are out of production because the engineers are being evacuated" the official said, adding that local workers are maintaining production at several other fields, which are pumping around 150,000-160,000 barrels-a-day of crude.
South Sudan, which inherited around 75% of oil fields upon its secession from Sudan in 2011, exports the bulk of its crude to Asian refiners.
The rebels attacked Malakal, the capital of Upper Nile on Tuesday, ending a lull in fighting that had lasted nearly a month. Until the attack, oil fields in the state were producing around 200,000 barrels-a-day of crude.
Col. Aguer said Saturday that government troops withdrew from Malakal on Friday to minimize civilian casualties. Fighting was continuing north of Malakal Saturday as the rebels pushed toward the oil fields, aid officials said. The oil fields are located around 100 miles north of Malakal.
Greater Nile Petroleum Operating Company, majority-owned by China National Petroleum Corp and India's Oil and Natural Gas Corp are the main operators of oil fields in South Sudan. Company officials couldn't be reached for an immediate comment.
Analysts say that an abrupt halt of oil production would likely push the government side to the negotiating table, improving the chance for a truce.
Talks between the rebels and government representatives failed to restart this week, after both sides traded accusations of violations of a cease-fire deal signed in January.
A spokesman for the United Nations mission in South Sudan said Friday that peace keepers counted at least 50 bodies in various parts of Malakal following days of fighting. Thousands have been killed and nearly 1 million people displaced since the conflict erupted in December.
Ugandan troops have been fighting alongside South Sudan's government forces since late December. The Ugandans helped the national army rout rebels from key towns in January, but international pressure has since been mounting on Kampala to pull out of the conflict to allow the implementation of the cease-fire.
The foreign ministry announced early this week that Ugandan troops would start pulling out of South Sudan in April.
Write to Nicholas Bariyo at email@example.com