15 April 2014, News Wires – Oil companies have been ordered to shut in production and evacuate staff from fields near a South Sudan oil patch that has reportedly been seized by rebels following gun battles.
There are also unconfirmed reports that a number of Russian oil company workers were injured in a security incident north of Bentiu, capital of Unity state.
Forces loyal to rebel leader Riek Machar claim to have captured the town, a key oil centre for the country.
Rebel spokesperson Lul Ruai Koang said: “The recapturing of Bentiu marks the first phase of liberation of oilfields. He also urged “all oil companies still operating in government-controlled areas to immediately embark on gradual and voluntary closure of oil production, and to evacuate all their staff”.
“Failure to comply with this request (will mean that) the oil companies risk forced oil shutdown and the safety of their staff,” he added.
Government forces have, however, denied that the town has fallen. Army spokesman Philip Aguer confirmed said: “There is heavy fighting, but it is still continuing… The rebels have tried to penetrate one part of the town but are being held back.”
The Associated Press also reported that UN peacekeepers had to rescue 10 workers for Russian oil company Safinat after fighting broke out north of Bentiu. Five of the workers were injured, two critically, the report said. Nobody was immediately available for comment at Moscow-based Safinat on Tuesday afternoon.
Fighting broke out in South Sudan’s capital Juba in mid-December after President Salva Kiir accused former vice president Riek Machar of plotting a coup – something the latter has denied.
Feuding quickly spread to other states, forcing the world’s newest nation to shut in about one fifth of its production.
Peace has largely reigned in the oil-rich nation, however, following a truce agreed in late January in Ethiopia.
South Sudan split from Sudan in July 2011, taking with it three-quarters of the original country’s oil reserves.
Khartoum relies heavily on revenues from oil production in South Sudan, which must use its neighbour’s midstream and port infrastructure for exports.