Feb. 21 (Bloomberg) -- South Sudan is trying to evacuate foreign oil workers from its Upper Nile region after fighting erupted between the army and rebel fighters in the state capital three days ago, a government official said.
The state government told companies to shut down production at the Gumri and Adar oil fields “because of security precautions,” Upper Nile Mining and Petroleum Minister Francis Ayul said in a phone interview today.
“Some of the foreign engineers have been given priority to go back” to the national capital, Juba, he said. “Some of the workers will remain in the field to monitor and maintain facilities.”
Upper Nile is the only state in the world’s newest nation producing oil, two months after violence erupted in the country. Clashes broke out in Malakal, the state capital, on Feb. 18 in violation of a cease-fire agreement signed on Jan 23.
The government army “tactically withdrew in Malakal to avoid unnecessary panic and death among innocent youths,” President Salva Kiir’s press spokesman, Ateny Wek Ateny, told reporters today in Juba.
Fighting that started Dec. 15 has left thousands of people dead and forced at least 860,000 more to flee their homes, according to the United Nations. Clashes started after Kiir accused former Vice President Riek Machar, whom he fired in July, of leading a failed coup. The ensuing violence pitted members of Kiir’s ethnic Dinka community against Machar’s Nuer group.
South Sudan, which gained independence from Sudan in July 2011, has sub-Saharan Africa’s third-biggest oil reserves, according to BP Plc data. While oil production has been halted in Unity state because of the violence, output in Upper Nile state has been unaffected so far and is pumping 160,000 to 200,000 barrels a day, Foreign Minister Barnaba Marial Benjamin said Feb. 11.
The country’s low-sulfur crude is prized by Japanese buyers as a cleaner-burning fuel for power generation. The country has the capacity to produce as much as 350,000 to 400,000 barrels per day, Benjamin said.
China National Petroleum Corp., India’s Oil & Natural Gas Corp. and Petroliam Nasional Bhd., the main producers of South Sudan’s oil, evacuated employees from the country because of the fighting.
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