South Sudan evacuated some oil employees and plans a partial shutdown of facilities amid escalating violence in parts of the country.
The evacuation is temporary and oil output in the state of Upper Nile is flowing normally, Petroleum Minister Stephen Dhieu Dau said in a phone interview from Juba, capital of the oil-rich nation that gained its independence from Sudan in 2011.
Fighting in South Sudan, which broke out on Dec. 15, has already claimed as many as 500 lives, including United Nations peacekeepers. A rebel force linked to deposed Vice President Riek Machar and led by General James Kong Chol last week captured Bor, the capital of Jonglei state, and said it has taken control of the country.
Machar, who is being hunted by security forces, has called for President Salva Kiir to step down for failing to unite the nation. Machar and the rest of Kiir’s cabinet were fired in July by the president.
The escalating crisis in South Sudan makes it “crucial that aid agencies get money needed to respond early in the year,” UN Assistant Secretary-General Toby Lanzer said on his Twitter page from Juba. He estimated the country will need $1.1 billion of humanitarian aid in 2014 after 62,000 people were displaced in the past week’s violence.
Four U.S. service members were injured yesterday while on flights to evacuate Americans from Bor, prompting President Barack Obama’s administration to urge the opposing parties to negotiate. The UN had previously sent helicopters to evacuate staff from South Sudan and one was hit and forced to land on Dec. 20, according to the Associated Press.
About 380 U.S. officials and private citizens have been evacuated to Nairobi and other locations, along with about 300 others, U.S. State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said in an e-mailed statement today.
“We strongly recommend U.S. citizens in South Sudan depart immediately, and we encourage those who remain to keep in touch with the embassy,” she said in the statement.
Obama sent a letter to lawmakers today saying he “may take further action to support the security of U.S. citizens, personnel, and property, including our embassy” in South Sudan. Obama said the letter was intended to keep Congress informed of military activities under the War Powers Resolution.
A spokesman for South Sudan’s army, Philip Aguer, blamed rebel forces for the attack on the U.S. flights, while the United States Africa Command said the small-arms fire came from unknown forces. The troops were being treated for their injuries and were in stable condition, the U.S. command said.
“Any effort to seize power through the use of military force will result in the end of longstanding support from the United States and the international community,” the White House said in a statement yesterday. U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said Dec. 20 he was dispatching a special envoy, Ambassador Donald Booth, to the region.
The number of displaced includes 42,000 people taking shelter at sites run by the UN mission in the country, according to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs in South Sudan.
Landlocked South Sudan has sub-Saharan Africa’s third-largest oil reserves after Nigeria and Angola, according to the BP Statistical Review. It exports about 220,000 barrels of oil a day through pipelines across neighboring Sudan. Total SA has a stake in an oil-exploration concession in Jonglei, an eastern state bordering Ethiopia.
The government is in control of all oil wells, Mayen Dut Wol, South Sudan’s ambassador in the Sudanese capital of Khartoum, told reporters earlier today. While the situation has calmed in Juba, problems remain in the capitals of Jonglei and Unity states, he said. No refugees have crossed into Sudan, he added.
The real concern for Sudan is “if fighting escalates into civil war,” Ezz al-Din Ibrahim, an economist and former state minister of finance in Sudan, said by phone from Khartoum yesterday.
Oil transit fees represent about 5 percent of Sudan’s projected revenue and their loss wouldn’t have a significant impact, though pressure on the budget may prompt the government to cut transfers to states, he said.
Civil war might trigger a breakdown in trade and an influx of refugees, burdening the government with security and humanitarian support costs, he said.
Kenya, which in 2005 helped settle a two-decade civil war in Sudan, has sent six mediators to help end the fighting, joining representatives of other East African nations. Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta has also ordered the immediate delivery of food, water and medicine to South Sudan to help respond to the emergency, spokesman Manoah Esipisu said.
A peacekeeping force should be deployed in South Sudan to help end the fighting, former Kenyan Prime Minister Raila Odinga said in an e-mailed statement.
“I appeal the UN and U.S. to immediately deploy a neutral force in all parts of South Sudan,” Odinga said.