ADDIS ABABA – The Chinese government announced it has conducted mass evacuation of its oil workers from Paloch oilfields in South Sudan due to the ongoing fighting around the oilfields in the oil-rich Upper Nile state territory. Heavy fighting between troops loyal to president Salva Kiir and the armed opposition faction (SPLM-IO), led by former vice president, Riek Machar, has continued near the oilfields since Tuesday.
In a statement announced in Beijing on China’s national television(CCTV) on Thursday, it said the decision came due to the insecurity around the oilfields resulting from the advance by the rebel forces towards the oilfields. It said the Chinese embassies in both Khartoum and Juba with China National Petroleum Corporation (CNPC), a government owned major oil company operating in Paloch, have already evacuated over 400 Chinese oil workers from the conflict area.
“More than 400 Chinese oil workers have been evacuated from South Sudan due to growing violence,” said the statement published by the Chinese government. Beijing said the evacuated workers will be flown to China in the next few days. This latest development largely contradicts South Sudan government’s claim on Thursday that oil workers were returning to Paloch allegedly after defeating the rebels.
REBELS BESIEGE PALOCH OILFIELDS
South Sudanese rebels, however, issued statements claiming their forces captured Tangrial Bil refinery site and besieged Paloch oilfields aiming to capture it. They urged oil companies to close down and evacuate their workers for safety reasons.
The rebel leader’s spokesman, James Dak said the country’s main oilfields of Paloch, some 200kms north of Malakal, had been besieged and designated priority target. “SPLM/SPLA forces have converged around Paloch oilfields – Adar (Upper Nile) state – from different directions to capture the oilfields from pro-Salva Kiir forces any time soon,” Dak said.
He said the leadership of the movement also renewed “strong advice” to any remaining oil worker in Paloch to evacuate for safety reasons. He accused the government of allegedly using some oil workers as human shield and said Juba would be responsible for any harm on them.
“We have learnt with disbelief that the government, out of panic, has prevented some of international oil workers from leaving the area, using them as human shield,” he said. “We call on oil companies operating in the area to ensure their workers are evacuated.”
The rebels said their counter-offensive aimed to temporarily close down oil production or to cut off Juba from the oil revenues which they said president Kiir’s government had been using to “hire mercenaries and buy weaponry to perpetuate the war.”
This, Dak said, was in response to government’s “full scale offense” which he described as a violation of the cessation of hostilities agreement between the two warring parties.