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May 28, 2013

Bashir Could Again Stop South Sudans' Oil Flow

by Hannah McNeish

South Sudan is urging Sudan to use dialogue instead of action amid new threats from Sudan's President Omar al-Bashir to cut the south's access to his country's oil pipelines and port. This development comes as Sudan again accuses South Sudan of funding rebels fighting the Bashir government.

South Sudan recently began pumping oil through the north for the first time in 15 months, after the sides resolved a dispute over export fees and security.

On Tuesday, South Sudan strenuously denied accusations from its former civil war foe Sudan that the new nation is still providing support to allies it fought alongside during five decades of war.

Crude pumping again

Government spokesman Barnaba Marial Benjamin said that South Sudanese crude continues to flow through pipelines to marine terminals in the north, but took note of Bashir's threat to again bring southern exports to a halt.

“Now the oil is still flowing smoothly, it's on its way to Port Sudan, that I can assure you. Of course President Bashir sends a threat that if we continue to supply the rebels, as he claims, that he has got two weeks to go or he will close down the oil," said Benjamin.

South Sudan split peacefully from Sudan two years ago, taking around three-quarters of the oil production, or roughly 350,000 barrels a day.

But the two countries fought clashes on the border last year amid unresolved disputes over how to split the revenue from all  that oil.

The oil flow was only switched on again recently, after a 15-month shutdown about a dispute over how much South Sudan should pay to use the north's pipelines and export terminals.

Last week, South Sudan accused Sudan of switching off a valve that enables the oil to reach the port, forcing it to halve the flow to around 100,000 barrels a day.

War of words

Khartoum said it was experiencing technical difficulties. But oil insiders said it was another show of force to try and pressure Juba into cutting its alleged support to rebels in Sudan's war-torn Darfur region and in the restive border states of Blue Nile and South Kordofan.

Benjamin said that South Sudan does not know exactly how seriously to take the latest threat from Bashir, or who would blink first.

“When a president of a country speaks, there’s not joking about it, he means it. And of course, there could be a little bit of rhetoric in it,” said Benjamin.

He said the Sudanese government should use diplomatic channels rather than a public forum to air its grievances, and said the offices belonging to rebel groups do not exist that Bashir wants to close down in South Sudan.

Studies about alternative pipelines for South Sudanese oil that would go through Kenya or Ethiopia and Djibouti are due in June. In the current climate of threats, the studies might further tip the government toward opting to spend billions on securing its “economic independence” from the north.