Thousands have been killed and more than 800,000 have fled their
homes since fighting began in South Sudan two months ago, triggered
by a power struggle between President Salva Kiir and Riek Machar,
his former deputy whom he sacked in July.
The warring sides signed the ceasefire on January 23 to end weeks of
fighting, but sporadic clashes have continued.
Since Tuesday, the capital of the main oil-producing Upper Nile
region, Malakal, has been divided between the army and rebels after
forces loyal to Machar raided the town and fought against government
Local officials on Friday ordered the evacuation of foreign oil
workers from the Adar and Gumri oil fields, citing security
concerns, but the national government overruled them.
"This one was just an irrational decision from the (Upper Nile)
state authorities without consultation with the national
government," South Sudan's Minister in the Office of the President
Awan Guor told Reuters via telephone.
"The presence of rebels in Malakal doesn't mean that our oil fields
are in danger right now," he said.
A petroleum ministry official told Reuters on Thursday that national
oil production had fallen to about 170,000 barrels per day even
before the rebel strike on Malakal, a fall of around a third since
the fighting erupted in December.
Upper Nile is the only state pumping oil after production in
neighboring Unity state was halted earlier on in the conflict,
forcing the government to cut output by about a fifth to around
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Malakal lies about 140 km (90 miles) from Paloch, an oil complex
where a key crude oil processing facility is situated.
The government wants to avoid further losses from the oil fields, an
economic lifeline for Juba and neighboring Sudan, which earns vital
hard currency from fees received for use of its oil pipeline.
The fighting in Malakal has cast doubts over the peace talks in
Addis Ababa, which have already been delayed by rebel demands for
the release of four remaining political detainees and the withdrawal
of Ugandan troops from the country.
(Writing by James Macharia; editing by Raissa Kasolowsky)
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