Sudan, South Sudan vow to keep oil flowing, differ on pumping problem

KHARTOUM/ADDIS ABABA Thu May 23, 2013 12:53pm EDT

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KHARTOUM/ADDIS ABABA (Reuters) - Sudan and South Sudan's oil ministers on Thursday vowed to continue cross-border oil flows but gave contradictionary opinions whether a technical problem at a pumping station which had cut output had been fixed.

Landlocked South Sudan is in the process of restarting oil exports via cross-border pipelines to the Sudanese Red Sea port of Port Sudan following a 16-month shutdown.

Two days ago, it said it had lowered oil output to 105,000 barrels a day from 200,000 bpd due to a technical problem at a pump station at a processing plant in Jebelain just across the border in Sudan's White Nile state.

On Thursday, South Sudan's Oil Minister Stephen Dhieu Dau flew to Khartoum to meet his Sudanese counterpart Awad al-Jaz to sort out the technical issue.

Afterwards, both minister vowed at a joint news conference to continue oil flows and to implement economic and security deals signed in September to defuse tensions between the neighbors which fought one of Africa's longest civil wars.

But both minister gave different accounts whether the technical problems had been solved at Jebelain, home to a plant to purify the oil from water before it is loaded into an eastern pipeline.

"This has been solved after we exchanged views and the oil is now on its way to Port Sudan," Dau said.

But Jaz, sitting next to him, said while oil was crossing normally the border through the two pipelines the technicians were still working in Jebelain.

"The oil has not stopped flowing...It is in Kilometer 46 in Jebelain while the issue is being solved," he said, adding that flows from South Sudan's Unity state through the western export pipeline were not affected as these do not go through Jebelain.

Dau later told Reuters production at the Palouge oilfield could reach 250,000 barrels a day within three months. South Sudan used to produce 350,000 bpd until the shutdown in January 2012 in a row with Sudan over oil fees.

South Sudan had said on Tuesday said it suspected Sudan had closed the pipelines for political reasons after Khartoum accused the South of aiding rebels operating across the shared order. Both sides share deep mistrust.

Both ministers declined to say when the first oil cargo would arrive in Port Sudan, Sudan's export terminal, but Sudan's Foreign Minister Ali Ahmed Karti told Reuters it could happen next week.

"It's already on the borders of the region of Port Sudan," Karti told Reuters on the sidelines of an African Union summit in Ethiopia. "It's almost in Port Sudan. It should arrive during the last days of this month."

Karti renewed an accusation that South was still supporting insurgents in Darfur in the west and two southern states bordering South Sudan.

"We are sure there is support from South Sudan to the rebels within Sudan," Karti said. "But we don't hope that these things will stop the cooperation, especially if it's addressed by the leaders of South Sudan."

(additional reporting by Khalid Abdelaziz; Editing by William Hardy)

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