South Sudan Says Staff Back at Oil Fields After Fighting

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Staff at South Sudan’s largest oil hub are returning to work after fighting between the army and rebel forces prompted a group of them to temporarily evacuate, the East African country’s government said.

Some workers were removed from the Paloch fields in Upper Nile state as a precautionary measure on Wednesday, an oil ministry official, who asked not to be identified in line with policy, said by phone from the national capital, Juba. Rebels loyal to former Vice President Riek Machar said earlier this week that the fighters took control of the state’s oil facilities, a claim denied by the government.

There is no danger now and staff have returned with the support of extra government troops, the official said. Army spokesman Philip Aguer said his forces recaptured the town of Melut on Wednesday, curbing the threat to nearby Paloch.

South Sudan has sub-Saharan Africa’s biggest oil reserves after Nigeria and Angola, according to BP Plc data. Before the war began, China National Petroleum Corp., Malaysia’s Petroliam Nasional Bhd. and India’s Oil & Natural Gas Corp. pumped most of the oil, which is exported from the landlocked country via pipelines across neighboring Sudan.

Upper Nile is the only state still exporting the fuel 16 months after civil war erupted when a power struggle within the ruling party turned violent. The United Nations condemned the recent escalation in hostilities that has led to allegations of rape and the burning of villages. Four civilians were killed when mortar bombs struck a UN protection base on May 19.

Production has reduced by about 3,000 barrels per day to 165,000 over the past two weeks because of technical difficulties that had nothing to do with the fighting, Oil Minister Stephen Dhieu Dau told reporters on Thursday in Juba. An assessment is under way on the condition of the oil fields and related infrastructure in Upper Nile state, he said.

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