WASHINGTON - The main rebel group in South Sudan is threatening to disrupt oil production in the country, a day after it released three foreign oil workers it kidnapped earlier in the month.
An official of the Sudan People's Liberation Movement in Opposition (SPLM IO) said the government is using oil revenue to purchase weapons and kill civilians.
“People in South Sudan are not receiving their money (from oil revenue). This money is going to their pocket (of government officials) and for buying arms for killing our people. If we have chance to stop the oil production, we will do it,” said Dak Duop Bichok, the head of the SPLM IO's committee for energy and mining
Oil workers released
Duop confirmed the rebel group has released three foreign oil workers it abducted in the Adar fields of oil-rich Upper Nile State earlier in March.
VOA's South Sudan In Focus obtained a letter dated March 28 ordering the release of two Indians, Muthu Vijaya Boopathy and Ayaz Hussein Jamali, who work with a Chinese-led consortium, and Ambrose Edward, a Pakistani employed by a South Sudanese company.
Duop said the three were released after officials from their countries spoke with rebel leader Riek Machar. He said the freed oil workers were flown to Khartoum via Addis Ababa on Thursday and taken to their countries' embassies in Khartoum.
Ransom demand denied
South Sudan's Information Minister Michael Makuei said early this month the government received reports that rebel forces were demanding a $1 million ransom for the oil workers. He said South Sudan's Transitional Government of National Unity does not deal with what he called terrorists.
Duop denied his group demanded ransom for the oil engineers. “We didn't demand anything, we released them without any deal,” he told VOA's South Sudan in Focus.
Duop said the SPLM IO is not a terrorist group, but fights for the rights of South Sudanese.
At the same time, he said the SPLM IO has given repeated warnings to national and international oil companies to abandon the oil fields.
“You please, evacuate the place. The government is producing oil, and is getting money and is buying (arms),” he said.
South Sudan's Minister for Petroleum, Ezekiel Lol Gatkuoth said early this month that his government has learned a lesson and will increase measures to protect oil workers in the area.