Sudan fears South Sudan fighting will affect vital oil flows
KHARTOUM - Sudan expressed fears Friday over the fate of vital oil flows as fighting between rival army factions spread in neighbouring South Sudan.
Sudan's cash-starved economy is to receive an estimated $1.5 billion (1.1 billion euros) in fees from South Sudan next year for moving crude through northern pipelines for export.
Information Minister Ahmed Bilal Osman expressed concern that the South's oil fields will become victims of the fighting between forces loyal to President Salva Kiir and those of his former vice president, Riek Machar.
"Definitely one of the targets of the two powers, will (be to) try to take over the oil fields," perhaps as a way to improve their bargaining position, he said.
"It's a struggle for wealth and power."
At least five South Sudanese workers were killed late on Wednesday after unidentified attackers stormed their compound, operated by the Greater Nile Petroleum Operating Co (GNPOC), a senior executive with the firm said.
But "so far, there is no effect" on oil flows into Sudan, Osman said.
"We are very anxious about what is going on in the South. This will affect all the neighbouring countries. In Sudan we are going to suffer even more than the others."
He also expressed fears about an influx of refugees and weapons.
The South became independent from Sudan less than three years ago under a 2005 peace deal that ended 23 years of civil war.
Sudan itself is grappling with tribal and rebel violence in its Darfur region, as well as insurgencies in the Kordofan area and Blue Nile state.
On Monday, the United Nations said that almost two million people are displaced in Darfur while, countrywide, 6.1 million need humanitarian assistance.
"We have already some problems in our own country," Osman said, and the Southern violence threatens to make things worse.
"We'll have refugees," Osman said, although there has not yet been any major influx over the 2,000-kilometre (1,240-mile) frontier.
During the civil war, millions of southerners fled to the north.
"The availability of weapons will be more," Osman added.
The United Nations said incidents of fighting or civil unrest, which began a week ago in the South's capital Juba, had now spread to 14 separate areas in South Sudan.
Late Wednesday, troops loyal to the fugitive Machar seized the town of Bor, about 400 kilometres (250 miles) from the disputed border with Sudan.
"The worst scenario for us is this war flares in other areas and extends to the whole of the South, and this will have an impact on Sudan," Osman said.
Khartoum 'not taking sides'
After intermittent border fighting last year, and allegations that the South was supporting rebels in Sudan, relations improved with a September summit between Kiir and Sudan's President Omar al-Bashir.
The two leaders agreed to implement nine security and economic pacts which, among other measures, would open the frontier for trade and implement a demilitarised buffer zone designed to cut cross-border rebel support.
Those deals "will be very difficult to implement if you don't have a partner in Juba," a foreign diplomat said, asking for anonymity.
He also said a lack of central control in the South could allow different factions there to "revert to their own agenda".
This could possibly mean trouble for Sudan in rebellious Kordofan or the Abyei region, whose status is disputed by the two countries, the diplomat said.
"I think this potentially could be very threatening to the stability of Sudan as well," he said. "I'm really worried."
It is too soon to say which faction is winning, Osman said, but Sudan is not siding with either of them.
"We want peace in the South," he said.
Foreign Minister Ali Karti was in Juba Friday as part of a delegation from the Inter-Governmental Authority on Development(IGAD), a regional body, in an effort to find a peaceful solution.
"We are trying now to contact... Riek Machar and to make the two parties sit together," Osman said, calling on the broader international community to help.