12 April 2012, Sweetcrude, KHARTOUM – There are fears that the dispute over territory and oil reserves between Sudan and South Sudan is degenerating into full scale war as the latter shut in oil production at a key region seized this week.
Sudan is also preparing to mobilise its army to the strategic oil town of Heglig which was captured by the Sudan People’s Liberation Army (SPLA), under the control of South Sudan, on Tuesday.
Despite international appeal, South Sudan president, Salva Kiir, says the country forces would not quit oilfields it is accused of seizing in Heglig and warned Sudan against launching a “meaningless war
Kiir signalled that an end might not be immediately in sight on the crisis when he addressed parliament in the capital, Juba, on Thursday.
“I always say we will not take the people of South Sudan back to war, but if we are being aggressed, attacked like this we will have to defend ourselves,” the BBC reported Kiir as saying.
A report in the Sudan Tribune on Thursday claimed that engineers from White Nile Petroleum Operating Company, a joint venture between Khartoum and Petronas, had inspected oil installations in Heglig and confirmed they were shut in.
South Sudan’s government had claimed on Wednesday that oil production in the disputed border region, seized by its troops, had been suspended, the newspaper reported.
Sudanese troops had retreated from Heglig earlier this week following the advance of the SPLA.
South Sudan’s military spokesperson Philip Aguer told Reuters: “There is no doubt that Heglig area and the oil wells are under control of the SPLA.”
Oilfileds in the Heglig region are crucial to Sudan as they produce around half of the country’s total daily output.
Sudan’s undersecretary of foreign affairs, Rahamatalla Mohamed Osman also told the news wire: “I expect … these oilfields will be affected, definitely, and at least there will not be production. If there is a conflict in the area, this is the least.”
Sudan and South Sudan have largely been at loggerheads since the latter gained independence from the former in July last year, becoming the world’s newest nation.
Oil is at the centre of the dispute with South Sudan taking with it around three quarters of the enlarged territory’s oil reserves. However, South Sudan is dependent on Sudan’s infrastructure to export its oil.
Earlier this year South Sudan accused its neighbour of stealing its oil and, in response, it shut in all production. The country has also inked agreements with other countries in the region to build pipelines linking its oilfields with the Indian Ocean.
The African Union on Wednesday expressed its “grave concern at the escalating armed conflict on the border” between the neighbours.
It called upon “both parties to exercise utmost restraint and to respect the territorial integrity of the other state”.