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Sudan won't form joint force to guard South Sudan's oil-spokesman

Source: Reuters - Thu, 9 Jan 2014 15:06 GMT
Author: Reuters
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KHARTOUM, Jan 9 (Reuters) - Sudan's army said on Thursday that it has no intention of forming a joint force to help South Sudan protect its oil-producing regions and restore output that has been hit by violence between government forces and rebels.

Army spokesman Colonel Khaled Sawarmi cited past failure to improve military cooperation with South Sudan, which broke away from Sudan in 2011, to explain Khartoum's position.

"There is no common ground between the two armies," he told Reuters.

Sudan had already backed away from comments earlier this week that South Sudan had requested talks on the deployment of a joint force.

The task of protecting oil production in South Sudan has gained urgency since violence that broke out on December 15 spread to oil-rich regions.

Juba's government forces are battling an armed rebellion by forces loyal to former vice president Riek Machar. More than 1,000 people have been killed and more than 200,000 driven from their homes in the world's youngest state.

Rebels seized some oil wells in Unity State on December 26, cutting production by nearly a fifth to 200,000 barrels per day.

The latest supply disruption occurred barely six months after South Sudan resumed production following a year-long halt due to a dispute with Khartoum.

Landlocked South Sudan pays fees to Sudan to pipe its crude oil to Port Sudan on the Red Sea, making oil an important source of income for both states. Oil major BP estimates that South Sudan holds sub-Saharan Africa's third-largest reserves.

Sawarmi's comments came after Juba's foreign minister, Barnaba Marial Benjamin, thanked Khartoum for its interest in security cooperation after talks on Thursday with Sudan's President Omar Hassan al-Bashir.

The two countries came close to conflict in disputes over oil fees and the border in 2012. Talks in the Ethiopian capital between the Juba government and rebels have stalled over the issue of detainees held by South Sudan. (Reporting By Khalid Abdel Aziz; Writing by Maggie Fick; Editing by Michael Georgy and Alister Doyle)

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